The Marble Bar Virtual World (MBVW) program has been achieving one of the most elusive goals in Australian education – closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ learning outcomes.
This feat was demonstrated on the world stage in 2022 when the school won an international gold medal at the 2022 Australia Pacific ICT Awards, known as “the Oscars of innovation in ICT.”
Marble Bar Primary School was honoured in the Public Sector Digital Government Category for its unique VR world and virtual teacher development centre. The initiative promotes educational equality for minority groups, engages students in computer science, and preserves the local Nyamal culture.
In addition to enriching subjects like astronomy, geology, and topography, the school has transformed education by connecting local and global audiences, while increasing participation in STEM among demographics traditionally underrepresented.
In 2022, Marble Bar’s principal, Shane Wilson became one of twelve Australian educators to receive a Schools Plus Fellowship for his work in leading a culturally responsive STEM education at the school by integrating Western and Aboriginal concepts.
On Friday, August 11, the school’s community was surprised by two more significant accolades, when Marble Bar Primary School won the CompliSpace Best First Nations Education Program Award and an Excellence Award for Grok Academy Best STEM Program.
Principal Shane Wilson said upon returning to the school the following Monday, Marble Bar’s professional learning community was “overcome with pride, humility and joy”, adding the recognition is “a celebration of years of hard work further to the school community’s other achievements”.
Wilson noted that these include the Prime Minister of Australia’s Excellence in Primary Science Teaching Award, Commonwealth Bank Teaching Award, and Asia Pacific ICT Alliance’s Public Sector Digital Government Solution of 2022 Award.
Advancing the knowledge of the world’s oldest living culture
Wilson said the Marble Bar Virtual World program was created to advance the knowledge of the world’s oldest living culture by utilising innovative STEM pedagogies.
“Virtual reality and drone aviation enrich the teaching of Aboriginal and Western Scientific concepts including astronomy, topography, and geology,” Wilson said.
“CSIRO indicates that the greatest gains to increasing the number of people with STEM skills and literacy is to increase the participation by demographics currently underrepresented in STEM.”
Wilson said CSIRO acknowledged Marble Bar Primary School’s STEM program for engaging local students and community members in STEM, language experts at Wangka Maya’s Pilbara Aboriginal Languages Centre and key industry partner, Airborne IT.
“The Marble Bar Virtual World is transforming the concept of a school network in education; connecting local and global audiences,” he said. “A student champion with a delay of five years to her schooling attends and engages in school every day, co-leading the training of over 500 students in BHP’s Pilbara Education Partnership.”
Wilson said this student’s achievements were showcased at the 2022 Asia Pacific ICT Alliance Awards (APICTA) in Pakistan, adding that at WA’s Resources Technologies Showcase, a Year 7 student leader was approached by a New York Virtual Developer offering income to showcase her Non-Fungible Token on an American Virtual Platform.
A STEM model worthy of being replicated nationwide
The school has also been collaborating with Schools Plus, Cultures of Excellence and UNSW to scale out its Virtual Worlds program to a growing number of school communities in Australia and beyond, said Wilson, noting praise from the Governor of WA during a visit to Government House last year.
“The Governor said: ‘To see you use your STEM in such a unique way, where the cultural knowledge of your community is brought to life in the virtual world is quite incredible – and should be embraced by schools and communities everywhere’”.
The school’s professional learning community has also been recognised by Western Australia’s Information Technology Telecommunications Alliance for significantly contributing to expanding digital access and use for Western Australians, bridging the digital divide.
“The Marble Bar Virtual World promotes cultural safety, pride and digital inclusion for any user,” Wilson said.
“As the seed founder of this project, Marble Bar Primary School is now engaging in collaborations with Schools Plus, Cultures of Excellence, Airborne IT and Department of Education WA to improve the achievement, engagement, attraction and retention of students in a pilot group of schools in a sustainable and successionable way.”
Wilson said this culturally responsive student, parent and community engagement initiative focuses on “leveraging curriculum aligned with the rich cultural heritage of Aboriginal communities and the use of technology as a motivational learning vehicle to improve student understanding, learning, attendance, achievement and engagement in education.”
“By creating immersive VR and technology experiences rooted in Aboriginal traditions, this initiative also aims to foster cultural preservation, strengthen community relations and connections, and raise awareness about the diverse Aboriginal cultures across an exponentially greater number of Western Australian communities.”