here to return to the Submission Index
Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
Education Office, Diocese of Parramatta
The current situation for children in detention
Minimum standards in Parramatta Catholic Schools
Minimum standards embodied in international agreements
Our response to "Questions for Submissions"
with a strong commitment to social justice, and in particular to the education
of young people, the Catholic Education Office, Diocese of Parramatta,
and the Edmund Rice Centre, are most appreciative of the opportunity to
make a submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.
The Catholic Education
Office, Diocese of Parramatta (CEO), conducts some 71 Catholic schools
in the western area of Sydney, with an explicit commitment to reaching
out particularly to those who are poor, marginalised and most in need,
and to taking a public stance on issues of injustice and inequality. The
Edmund Rice Centre (ERC) is committed to action, advocacy, research and
education in social justice areas and has close ties to other organisations
in the justice and welfare sections both within and beyond the Catholic
CEO and ERC have
chosen to make this submission because of our deep concern over the whole
treatment of asylum seekers. These concerns are summarised in a public
statement issued by CEO on March 23rd, 2002 and published in the Sydney
Morning Herald. A copy of this statement is attached.
In the context of
the current request for submissions we have opted to focus on Section
6 – Education, because this is an area in which we have significant
expertise. We are acutely aware of the highly emotional nature of this
issue, and we have chosen to couch our response in terms of the facts
of the situation, measuring these up against two sets of benchmarks. In
the first case we ask, “If these children came to a Catholic
school in Parramatta diocese, what would we see as a minimum acceptable
response to their needs?” Accepting that, with our strong tradition
of pastoral care, this might be seen as an unacceptably high standard,
we then ask, “What are our minimum commitments under international
agreements?” Our conclusion is that, regrettably, we meet neither
In an effort to provide
useful, factual data to the Inquiry, our organisations tapped into their
respective networks to gather reliable data on the circumstances for children
in detention. Much of our material refers to Villawood, but we have spoken
to people released from other centres. Our data gathering techniques were
- Visits to Villawood.
- Interviews with
persons released from Villawood and other centers.
- Interviews with
people who work with and visit detainees including Church workers, advocates,
students and well wishers
- Written statements
from current and past detainees and visitors to the centers.
- Relevant documentation
including UN declarations.
It must be stressed
that we have not seen the educational provision at first hand.
The remainder of
our submission is structured as follows:
- A description
of the current situation for children in detention.
- The minimum standards
we would provide in our schools.
- The minimum standards
outlined in international agreements.
- Our response
to “Questions for Submission” in light of the above.
The title of our
report, “I wondered how long a year in there would be” was
taken from a written response from a Year 12 student at a secondary girls’
school, Parramatta, to her visit to Villawood detention centre. It captures
aptly the pervading sense of boredom, hopelessness and despair which characterises
the experience of young people in detention.
THE CURRENT SITUATION FOR CHILDREN IN DETENTION
For most children
in detention, their schooling experiences occur in the centre itself,
utilising facilities that were not purpose built for education. Within
this context, the reality for these children militates against worthwhile,
growth-filled, holistic educational experiences and the achievement of
appropriate educational outcomes.
of the centres has a focus on prevention of escape (including
razor wire, guard checks, alarms, musters, physical restraint, interrogation,
room searches, use of isolation and solitary confinement). Children witness
violence, self mutilation, hunger strikes, fights, suicide attempts. This
does not lend itself to the creation of an appropriate learning environment
which is creative, peaceful, stimulating and encouraging.
Documented and anecdotal
reports would indicate that the psychological state of
the children is severely affected. Indicators are sleep disturbance, depression,
aggression, eating disorders, panic attacks, physical withdrawal, apathy,
listlessness, tiredness, and expressions of fear, isolation and loss of
hope and confidence. It is unlikely that whatever schooling opportunities
the children are currently receiving would have any positive impact whilst
these particular psychological conditions remain unaddressed by specialist
personnel. Indeed, children experiencing such disturbances would require
assistance even at a basic level to facilitate concentration.
reality for children in detention is such that there is little
opportunity to form solid friendships and constructive relationships -
important elements in a young person’s educational experience. Children
experience a range of fractured relationships including separation from
family, fear of making friendships that can end suddenly on movement to
other centres or release, difficulty in sustaining quality relationships
in a daily pattern of boredom, aimlessness, frustration, sadness, lack
of trust, hopelessness and violence. Many reports speak of the absence
in detention of laughter, smiles and play.
provision for children in detention is very basic. The highest
estimate we heard of time available in Villawood is four hours per day
on four days per week. It is not clear what the syllabus is, but this
allocation of time is totally inadequate to cover a NSW curriculum. It
would appear that English lessons are offered in all centres. No provision
seems to be made for age or ability specific lessons. No support appears
to be provided for children with learning or physical disabilities. Some
children in some centres have access to computers and to basic maths and
science classes and painting activities. These activities take place in
rooms with few teaching resources and no specialist facilities. (Preschool
has a 5 by 5 metre room, and since 2001, the previous 6 by 8 primary classroom
has been replaced by a new double classroom.) Some children have access
to books and toys donated by charities. Recreational space and sporting
facilities and opportunities are extremely limited.
MINIMUM STANDARDS IN PARRAMATTA CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
As an educational
system which has considerable expertise in accepting refugee children
from many parts of the world, many of whom arrive suffering trauma, with
little language and few community connections, we have developed a range
of relevant practices and support structures.
Our first concern
is to extend a genuine welcome to students and to provide an environment
which is calm and safe. Unless and until needs for security and safety
are met, educational efforts can be futile. Thus, issues from Section
3 of this Inquiry (Mental Health and Development) are intrinsically connected
to educational matters.
Security is provided
by our Intensive English Centre which introduces students not only to
English language but the culture and practices of our schools. Our small
centre has practices in place to provide supported transition to mainstream
schooling. In cases where students have experienced trauma, specialist
counselling support is provided.
goal is to move students – many of whom have had severely disrupted
schooling – to a state of readiness to engage with mainstream NSW
curriculum. This involves appropriate educational assessment, especially
tailored programs and remediation delivered by specialist ESL teachers.
Our program is full-time (30 hours per week). Once students move to mainstream
schools in a gradual process, they receive some itinerant support as well
as the support of specialist ESL teachers in schools, and access to the
full range of pastoral care, special education (where necessary) and counselling
support our schools have to offer.
MINIMUM STANDARDS EMBODIED IN INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS
It might be argued
that our local practices go beyond an acceptable minimum provision, and
that we need only meet our international obligations. We have extracted
the following standards from the background papers.
(a) Education should be free and compulsory.
(b) For primary students it should meet minimum curriculum standards for
(j) For secondary students it should meet minimum curriculum standards
for non-Australian residents. [In practice b and c) are the same].
(j) Provision should be made for students with disabilities.
(j) Education should be provided in a culturally sensitive way.
(j) There should be access to vocational education.
(g) There should be access to higher education.
(j) The environment should be child-friendly.
(j) Educational provision should be gender-sensitive.
(j) Education should take cognisance of the appropriate language of instruction.
(k) The environment should contribute to psychosocial stability.
In the background
papers for Section 6, these criteria are, by and large, embodied in the
“Questions for submission”.
OUR RESPONSE TO “QUESTIONS FOR SUBMISSIONS”
5.1 How does
Australia support the right to education of child asylum seekers in detention?
What is the quality of educational opportunities available and what measures
would enhance the quality?
As far as we can
determine, the right to education is seen as a very low priority in detention
centres. In both quantity and quality educational opportunities fall short
of reasonable expectations. The best solution would be to allow the children
to attend mainstream schools as has recently been proposed by the NSW
Teachers Federation. Failing this, implementing at the very least the
standards embodied in our international agreements is essential.
are the relevant legislative, administrative and other measures in place
to ensure children in immigration detention centres receive the education
they need? How do they compare to education in relevant states and territories
for other children? What are the gaps?
Our work did not
examine the legislative measures in place. Administratively it would appear
that there are no procedures in place to guarantee the quality or adequacy
of educational provision. Estimates of time allocated to education varied
from 8 – 16 hours per week (as opposed to 30 hours plus for students
in NSW schools). There is no attempt to follow, in the case of Villawood,
the NSW syllabus. Educational provision could be improved by formally
establishing the centre as a school, subject to the usual requirements
for registration and accreditation. It would be easier, and educationally
and socially better, to simply send students to a local school.
5.3 In each
detention facility, is an individual assessment of educational needs undertaken
by qualified educators and is an educational plan involving the student
and her or his parents developed and implemented?
As far as we were
able to determine, no individual assessments are carried out. We are unsure
as to the qualifications of educators, but certainly in the secondary
area, given the small number of staff, there would appear to be no specialists.
There was no evidence of individual educational plans – negotiated
5.4 To what
extent is adequate pre-school, primary, secondary and vocational education,
available for child asylum seekers, both in detention facilities and in
By the standard of
what we have committed to internationally, or what would be the norm in
our system of schools, provision at all levels ranges from non-existent
to almost totally inadequate within detention facilities. We have grave
concerns about the quantity and quality of secondary education available.
Some reports from Villawood indicate that the 12-18 year age group receives
no education at all, but others speak of limited hours. Provisions available
in local schools and systems are not made available to Villawood detainees.
measures have been taken to encourage school attendance and prevent non-attendance?
What are the practical barriers to school attendance?
Detainees gave the
impression that there was little compulsion to attend school, and that
the major barriers to attendance were the lack of a rich and stimulating
curriculum combined with the apathy bred of trauma, boredom and despair.
5.6 To what
extent is special education available for children with physical and/or
mental disabilities? Does it take into account the child’s age and
developmental needs? To what extent is it available for children with
In the absence of
either diagnostic testing and specialist staff, and given that –
at Villawood at least – students seem to be in groups with such
a wide range of ages, cultures, experiences and needs that there is little
likelihood of these issues receiving appropriate attention.
5.7 Is the
curriculum relevant and appropriate to the child? Are gender, age, culture,
language and the child’s personal background taken into account?
As far as we were
able to determine, the minimal provision is very much focussed on English
language, and is a ‘one size fits all’ approach. In this circumstance,
it is unlikely that the usual standards of curriculum individualisation
would be met.
5.8 How are
different age groups and capabilities accommodated?
seems to be little provision, although good teachers could be making internal
provision in their classes.
educational assessment programs are in place? Are records kept of students’
achievements? Are certificates available to validate the formal academic
and/or vocational achievement of students in immigration detention? Are
these qualifications recognised in all Australian states and territories?
We have little data
on this, but given the limited provision, would doubt if certification
is a possibility.
As educators we are
distressed at the total inadequacy of the educational provision within
the detention centres, which fails to meet either our international obligations,
or the standards which we would hope to see applied to our own children.
The combination of this and the distressing (and often traumatic) environment
of the centres will unquestionably result in a body of young people who
are severely socially, psychologically, linguistically and educationally
disadvantaged. Even from the most selfish of stances, these are problems
which our society will have to address, since a large number of detainees
is eventually released into the community. As it stands, the development
of these young people is being at best delayed, and at worst irreparably
damaged. As Australian citizens we are ashamed that this situation can
be allowed to continue. As an education system we would be open to any
approach from government to become involved in addressing the needs of
these children and young
Updated 14 July 2003.