Our Project

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“Students develop capability when they apply knowledge and skills confidently, effectively and appropriately in complex and changing circumstances.” – Australiancurriculum.edu.au

The Prep-Year 12 Indigenous STEM Project is the result of a partnership between Tagai State College, the ARC Centre for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, and James Cook University.

This partnership project aims to improve the academic performance of Indigenous students in the STEM areas of the school curriculum. This project involves aligning the assessment and curriculum processes to the Australian Curriculum Achievement Standards and devising learning engagements in increments to build the necessary capabilities and capacities students require to succeed in their studies. It is a unique approach to improve the agenda in STEM education, led by an outstanding Indigenous academic scholar.

Our missions include:

  • To achieve a process that will ensure all students gain the required levels of skills and knowledge to participate successfully in the curriculum.
  • To contribute lessons on improvements in STEM education that can benefit our national challenge to Indigenous schooling outcomes.
  • To improve learning capabilities to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to get an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for entry into university STEM areas.

Our Story

Commencing in 2017, the Tagai STEM Project is a partnership between the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), the Indigenous Education and Research Centre at James Cook University and Tagai State College.

Torres Strait Islanders who live and work in the remote Torres Strait are invested in the sustainability of their natural environments, which have provided for their needs over millennia. Environmental and species management and regional infrastructure solutions are important sources of future employment and of interest to many Islanders. Although Islanders have their traditional knowledge to draw on, STEM education is essential if Torres Strait Islanders are to gain the qualification to participate in employment and decision-making in these areas.

The Tagai STEM Project began as a collaborative project to improve the capacity of Torres Strait schools to deliver parity student outcomes in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Tagai State College students have English as their 2nd or 3rd language and are significantly disadvantaged by the English-based curricula and the pace of the curricula delivery. Classroom teachers face time pressures in adjusting curricula and delivering them at an appropriate pace and standard. They also face challenges finding suitable resources for working with students who often have lower English literacy and mathematical skills.

Under these conditions, it is difficult to improve student progress through the STEM curricula from P-12. The outcome is that after 13 years of schooling, few students from the remote Torres Strait region have the necessary requisites for entry into university courses in the STEM areas, despite having aspirations to careers in those areas.
Tagai State College reached out to the Indigenous Education and Research Centre at James Cook University for assistance that would ensure their students developed the confidence and capability they need to succeed in the STEM areas from year to year.

The IERC team are combining their knowledge, experience and passion for providing real opportunities to Indigenous students and applying this to assist remote Torres Strait Islander students. They are contributing to the project by reviewing, designing and implementing appropriate assessment tasks within the STEM subjects at Tagai State College so that they meet the relevant Australian Curriculum standards for progression through the P-12 years. The team consists of maths and science experts and includes Torres Strait Islanders with experience of education in the Torres Strait.

This seven-year project is dedicated to ensuring all Tagai State College students have the same opportunities to undertake tertiary studies as other Australian students.


The project consists of developing end of term assessments in line with Australian Curriculum standards. This is achieved by a rigorous process of auditing, mapping, designing and evaluating each assessment task across the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects right through from Prep to Year 12.

Ultimately, the project has two key components – the educational aspect and engagement to showcase the work being done to parents, teachers and the community.



  • Analysis and understanding of the Australian Curriculum (AC) achievement standards
  • Investigation into what materials currently exist and what is currently being using in schools
  • Determine whether all AC achievement standards are being met and to what level


  • Look at the achievement standards endpoint and work back to ensure all learning requirements are met at each level to meet the standards
  • Determine whether the achievement standards line up each year and if there are any gaps in the learning materials
  • Determine if the incremental steps within each achievement standard throughout the year line up, and if there are any gaps existing
  • The AC standards end upon completion of Year 12. Here, it is determined if there is a gap between the level of knowledge taught to what is expected in first year university. Have the students sufficiently learnt the skills to study at a tertiary level?

Assessment design

  • The information discovered from the rigorous auditing and mapping process is then used to design assessments for each term that meet the AC achievement standards
  • The assessments are designed using local to global knowledge framework, by using local context and examples that are familiar and appropriate to students to help understand the content

Evaluating Results

  • The final step in the process is to evaluate the student results data, pre and post the implementation of the project

What influenced the contents of the summative assessments?

  • The outcomes of the audit
  • The trial of materials across Tagai State College and feedback from teachers
  • The Torres Strait complexities – i.e. remoteness, limited outside exposure, English as a second language or dialect, etc.
  • Research from the broader literature
  • A desire to create independent learners

What’s different about the new assessments?

  • The language of the questions has been completely stripped back – i.e. a mathematics assessment is now tested on mathematics skills, not literacy
  • Use of local context and educational hooks
  • Oral and activity based questions for Prep – Year 3
  • Longer tasks in both mathematics and science to aid long term embedding of knowledge


Over the past few years, the Project has included engagement activities in the Torres Strait Islands.

The STEM Roadshow travels to the primary and secondary schools on Thursday Island in an attempt to engage students in a variety of fun and educational science experiments. The learning concepts from these experiments lead straight back to the classroom and are linked to the Australian Curriculum achievement standards.

The Traditional Astronomical Knowledges Evening encourages the sharing of knowledge from the Elders down the generations on how Islanders base their lives off the sky. From fishing and gardening to their artwork, they look to the skies for answers.

Parent Program

We understand the difficulty some parents have assisting their children with homework and keeping them engaged in learning. This program is designed for parents and community members to help engage their children in the STEM areas when they get home from school.

The information shared at the Parent Program provides tricks on how to further encourage children to talk about what they’ve learnt at school. Parents don’t have to be teachers or scientists to help their children, but encouraging continued interest and engagement is what’s important. In fact, this program encourages ways to let children be the ‘teachers’ at home.

Teacher Conferences

All Teacher Conference

Tagai State College coordinate a biennial All Teacher Conference where all teachers within the College travel to Thursday Island. In 2019 the Tagai STEM Project team were invited to present on a general overview of the Project, the gap between secondary and tertiary education for Indigenous students, and a secondary school mathematics session that was focussed on how to mark assessments and use graphics calculators.

Indigenous Teacher Conference

The College also organise a two-day Indigenous Teacher Conference for all Indigenous teachers and teacher aids on Thursday Island. The Project team attended this conference in 2019, with Chief Investigator, Professor Nakata presenting a keynote address.

Leaders Conference

Each term, the College hold a three-day Leaders Conference for all the Heads of Campus, Heads of Departments and Executive Team. The Project team have been invited to present at some of these events, and have been in attendance at others to answer any questions or queries and participate as required.

What’s next


From 2021 - 2024, the Project Team aim to:

  • Commence data collection from the assessments that have been introduced to the schools since the beginning of the Project
  • Take the STEM Roadshow to all outer island communities
  • Develop and implement the Parent Program to all Torres Strait communities
  • Continue the annual Traditional Astronomical Knowledges Evening
  • Publish journal articles on Project development and findings
  • Develop in-classroom resource