Skip to main content

Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

Click here to return to the Submission Index

Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

Australian Council of Deans

of Education Incorporated

ABN: 5800 386 2359

Registered Office: 21 Boobialla Street O'CONNOR ACT 2602

President: Professor

Mary Kalantzis

Dean, Faculty of Education, Language and Community Services, RMIT



Professor Terry Lovat

Pro Vice-Chancellor, Education and Arts (Central Coast Portfolio)

Executive Officer:

Dr Andrew Harvey

Faculty of Education, Language and Community Services, RMIT University


The Australian Council

of Deans of Education Incorporated (ACDE) welcomes the opportunity to

make a submission to this inquiry.

ACDE is the national

peak organisation representing deans of faculties of education and heads

of schools of education in Australian universities, and in other institutions

providing recognised teacher education qualifications. ACDE members are

responsible for initial and post-initial teacher education (schools, VET,

early childhood, tertiary, some other instructors/educators), education

research and scholarship, and education research training.

ACDE is incorporated

as an association in the ACT, and it is governed by a Board that includes

representatives from each State and Territory.

Our submission is

designed to complement the submission of the Melbourne International Health

and Justice Group, and focuses on two key points identified in the HREOC

guidelines, namely:

  • What barriers

    exist to effective education in immigration detention? How could they

    be addressed?

  • What is the best

    model for the provision of education in immigration detention, taking

    into account children's different languages and cultural backgrounds,

    developmental needs and detention times?

Executive Summary:

ACDE supports the

submission entered by the Melbourne International Health and Justice Group

(MIHJG) to the HREOC. The Council concurs with the belief of MIHJG that

overwhelming humanitarian arguments now exist against the policy of mandatory

detention of asylum-seekers. Moreover, ACDE notes that numerous alternatives

to mandatory detention, many of them highly successful, have been established

elsewhere (Tay 2000). In particular, the Swedish government has adopted

a much more compassionate and, arguably, far more effective method of

handling asylum-seekers since 1997 (MIHJG 2002).

That asylum-seekers,

and particularly children, suffer appreciable psychological harm under

mandatory detention is surely no longer in dispute (Sultan and O'Sullivan

2001; Steel and Silove 2001; Stephens, T. 2001). In many cases, those

seeking asylum have already experienced considerable trauma before their

arrival, and this is likely to be exacerbated by any prolonged period

of detention (Phillips, S. 2001). Nevertheless, ACDE acknowledges that

the Australian government remains committed to the policy of mandatory

detention. Given this position, it is also necessary to suggest practical

means by which potential harm to asylum-seekers may be limited, in the

context of mandatory detention.

Many of the arguments

in this submission are based on New Learning: A Charter for Australian

Education, a comprehensive document released by the Council in 2001.

As the peak national body for deans of faculties and heads of schools

of education, ACDE has consistently maintained that education is the key

to the promise of democracy, to the goals of opportunity and diversity,

and to the development and ultimate prosperity of both individuals and

nations. While much of the media coverage of, and community interest in,

the plight of children in immigration detention has quite justifiably

focused on health concerns, the paucity of education resources available

to these children may be just as damaging in the long term.

Moreover, the education

of asylum-seekers is not merely a question of harm minimisation. Experiences

around the world highlight that the inclusion of refugee children in schools

helps to promote tolerance and cultural diversity (Neustatter 2002). The

benefits of effective and inclusive education can occur not only in the

long term acquisition of skills and talents by those asylum seekers accepted

into Australia, but in the immediate boost to diversity provided by their

attendance at local community schools. However, many of these potential

benefits can only be reaped if adequate resources are allocated and if

effective programs are delivered.

1) Context:

The importance of

providing effective education to children in immigration detention cannot

be overstated. This section acknowledges that the specific recommendations

which follow in Sections 2 and 3 require, amongst other things, an increase

in the allocation of resources. The need for this increase is evident

on humanitarian grounds from the relative paucity of educational programs

and resources currently afforded these children. However, beyond humanitarian

concerns, any change in government policy will clearly also involve an

assessment of financial viability. ACDE believes that, in addition to

the humanitarian argument, there are strong pragmatic reasons for the

Australian government to improve the access to, and provision of, education

to children in immigration detention. Moreover, some insight into the

best model for education provision is gleaned from a broader examination

of evidence.

The following passage

is taken from New Learning: A Charter for Australian Education

(ACDE 2001: 48-9):

Early learning

is a key determinant of educational achievement (Hill & Russell

1994), children who attend any form of organised group preschool program

when three or four years old have superior cognitive development to

those who do not (Osburn & Mibank 1987), and participation in preschool

programs has a marked impact on later school achievements and on individual

economic success (CESCEO 2000; Kirby 2001).

New Learning (ACDE

2001: 49) also highlights the CESCEO report (2000) finding that for every

$US 1000 invested in education, $US 7,160 was posted in return, while

another report from the Australian Senate found similar returns for every

dollar invested in preschool programs for disadvantaged children (Senate

Employment, Education and Training Reference Committee 1996: 137).

The lessons from

these reports are clear: society benefits from an educated populace and

organised education from an early age is important in the long-term for

individuals. Indeed, for individuals of all backgrounds, the positive

effects of education are manifest. Those without post-school qualifications

are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than those who have undertaken

further study (ABS cat.4224.0), while there is a 33 per cent difference

in average weekly earnings between those with post-school qualifications

and those without (ABS cat 4224.0). The social ramifications of failure

in education are highlighted by the fact that, in many states, nearly

90 per cent of prisoners have not completed secondary education (OCSC


The plight of children

in immigration detention should be seen in the broader context of the

value of education. While asylum seeker children manifestly have special

needs, which are subsequently addressed in Sections 2 and 3, many of the

arguments for providing them with higher quality education reflect the

growing importance of education to individual identity and prosperity

more generally.

2) What barriers exist to

effective education in immigration detention? How could they be addressed?

It is tempting, and

arguably correct, to say that the single largest barrier to effective

education in immigration detention remains the condition of detention

itself. As the following section argues, the formal education of children

cannot be divorced from the environment in which it occurs, and children

confined to detention centres with their parents are unlikely to receive

the quality of education they might receive if allowed to live in the

wider community. The only real way of addressing this barrier, of course,

would be to consider the numerous effective alternatives to mandatory


Whether the present

system remains or not, however, there is a further overarching barrier

to effective education. This is the continuing perception by government

that the provision of education to asylum seekers is a cost to be minimised

rather than an investment. This section will argue that the additional

resources required for effective and inclusive education programs can

be justified not only on humanitarian grounds, but by the demonstrable

benefits to the nation of educating a diverse citizenry. Typically, most

asylum seekers have their claims ultimately supported - the extraordinary

diversity they bring to Australia should be recognised as an invaluable

resource, yet too often their potential contribution to the nation's productive

diversity is overlooked when financial decisions are made.

This perception of

education as a cost is directly related to the immediately visible barriers

to effective education in immigration detention, some of which are acknowledged

if not acted upon by the federal government. Clearly, the multitude of

cultural backgrounds, religions, and languages of asylum seekers makes

a simple, homogenous curriculum difficult and often ineffective to deliver,

whether in schools or in detention centres themselves. Varying degrees

of proficiency in the English language complicate the delivery of education

programs, and we are consistently reminded by the government of the practical

limitations of the education of these children.

It is instructive

to look overseas to find solutions to these apparent problems. In the

United Kingdom, a number of initiatives have been introduced to accommodate

asylum seeker children in local schools. These involve a realisation that

refugee children have particular needs and require support, and a further

recognition that the provision of such support is not only morally, but

economically justifiable. Some helpful initiatives identified by Neustatter

(2002) include the provision of:

  • Family-school

    liaison workers;

  • Interpreters,

    multiple translations of key materials, and relevant bilingual dictionaries

    and books;

  • An after-school

    club and a therapy center;

  • A mentoring program,

    where individual pupils are encouraged to look after refugees and link

    up with them as mentor figures.

Again, the intention

behind these carefully tailored programs is both to provide asylum seeker

children with maximum learning opportunities, and also to improve local

schools by making them acknowledge and profit from the existence of diversity.

Tackling racism and promoting tolerance have been key effects of the successful

integration of asylum seekers in local schools (Neustatter 2002).

In this context,

another obvious barrier in the Australian context is the isolation of

the detention centres. For children to be integrated most effectively

into local schools, they require those schools to be proximate, accessible,

diverse and possessing significant infrastructure. It must be said that

erecting fortresses in the desert is hardly conducive to the integration

of asylum seeker children into local communities. Tackling this problem

involves foremost an acknowledgement of the desirability of integration,

and subsequently a decision to relocate the most remote detention centres

to more appropriate environments.

It is impossible,

however, to limit the discussion to these factors. Increasingly, research

is revealing that all education must be contextualised in a broader environment.

In fact, as Prof. Andrew Gonczi has highlighted, there is already much

research being undertaken in a number of disparate fields which highlights

the importance of emotional intelligence, and the connection between cognition,

emotion and the body (Gonczi 2002). Collectively, what this research suggests

is that the context and environment of learning is vitally important to

educational outcomes. Clearly, this has implications for children in immigration

detention, and if mandatory detention remains, there must at least be

a more concerted attempt to integrate the children into local schools

and into more normal community environments than detention centres.

3) What is the best model

for the provision of education in immigration detention, taking into account

children's different languages and cultural backgrounds, developmental

needs and detention times?

To receive adequate

education, children in immigration detention should be placed within integrated

local schools. Resources and infrastructure should also be allocated along

the lines suggested in Section 1, to accommodate the diversity of backgrounds,

cultures and religions that these children bring to the schools. Further,

the size of classes attended by immigrant children should be kept to a

minimum, for the evidence on this matter is compelling. Perhaps the most

notable study has been Tennessee's Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement

Ratio), which tracked 11,600 students from 1985-1990 and found that students

in smaller classes outperformed their peers academically, and that benefits

were particularly evident to those who were from poor or disadvantaged

backgrounds ('Sydney's new class struggle', Sydney Morning Herald,

30 April 2002).

More tailored curriculum

and greater individual assistance also need to be provided, and these

can be supplemented by mentoring programs and more creative curriculum

approaches. Curriculum in schools attended by asylum seeker children,

and preferably in other schools, should be pluralist in nature. If adopted,

this approach would ultimately involve nothing less than a transformation

of mainstream education. Instead of representing a single cultural destination,

the mainstream would become a site of open-ness, negotiation, experimentation,

and the interrelation of alternative frameworks and mindsets. A pluralist

curriculum would recognise that learning is not a matter of 'development'

in the sense presently considered. Asylum seeker children would not be

encouraged to leave their old selves behind, nor to reject their lifeworlds,

which have often been framed by education as more or less inadequate to

the task of modern life in Australia.

Rather, the pluralist

process of transformation would be a matter of expanding horizons rather

than vertical progress. These new horizons would still have an impact

on the lifeworld: learners would still engage in and with their lifeworlds

in new ways, but not necessarily in order to leave those lifeworlds behind

in a kind of one way trip. This is an ambitious program and ACDE concedes

that it is unlikely in the short term that such radical changes to school

curriculum will be developed in depth. Nevertheless, the articulation

of this philosophy suggests a framework in which new programs may be developed,

and some inchoate programs may be expanded, along diverse, inclusive and

cross-cultural lines.

In the short term,

family-school liaison officers would also help serve as a bridge between

asylum seekers and school authorities, a link much-needed given the trying

conditions under which all asylum seekers must operate in their day-to-day

lives. The employment of these officers would necessarily involve additional

resources, but the humanitarian and social cost of failing to provide

these resources has already been amply demonstrated in the riots which

have consistently plagued Australian detention centres.


The following recommendations

assume the continuing existence of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

It should be noted, however, that ACDE does not support mandatory detention

and, further, believes it to be a significant barrier to the effective

education of immigrant children.

1) Ensure that

all children in immigration detention are able to attend local preschools

and schools. Overseas experience suggests that integrated local schools

can be effective learning environments for asylum seeker children, and

these schools are preferable to the collective education of asylum seekers

in an isolated classroom or institution, or in the detention centres themselves.

2) Move outlying

detention centres to more populated areas. This is related to recommendation

1, and would potentially enable all children in detention to attend integrated

local schools where infrastructure and resources were adequate for their

individual needs.

3) Ensure appropriate

pedagogical practice. This involves the training of teachers in schools

attended by asylum seeker children (and preferably other schools) in cross

cultural skills, and the ability to move beyond assimilationist education

programs. It must be acknowledged that the asylum claims of some children's

families will be rejected, and it is important that these children also

take back with them the benefits of a diverse and culturally attuned education.

Specific programs could be set up to assist teachers in the promotion

of pluralist, cross cultural learning.

4) Ensure the

employment of family-school liaison workers in education institutions.

This would assist relations between family members and those institutions,

and enable individual assistance to be provided to asylum seeker children.

5) Provide interpreters,

multiple translations of key materials, and relevant bilingual education.

It is vital that asylum seeker children have access to texts in languages

other than English, and that assistance is provided in the area of English

language proficiency. These resources must, however, be delivered in the

context of cross cultural pedagogical practices, rather than in the name

of mere assimilation (see point 3).

6) Establish after-school

clubs and therapy centers. It is necessarily to rpovide children with

a holistic education, and all efforts must be made to ensure an environment

suitable to learning.

7) Establish mentoring

programs within schools. These would encourage individual pupils to

look after refugee children and link up with them as mentor figures. The

programs would provide an important integrative and communication role,

and assist both asylum seeker children and those who take on the mentoring


8) Ensure small

class sizes. Given the needs and diverse backgrounds of asylum seekers,

class sizes should be kept at low levels.


Australian Bureau

of Statistics 2001, cat. 4224.0

Australian Council

of Deans of Education (ACDE) 2001, New Learning: A Charter for Australian

Education, ACDE, Canberra

Gonczi, A. 2002,

'Teaching and Learning of the Key Competencies', paper presented to OECD

conference, January

Hill, P. & Russell,

J. 1994, Resource Levels for Government Primary Schools, University

of Melbourne, Faculty of Education, Melbourne

Kirby, P. 2001, Review

of the Issues that Impact on the Delivery of Preschool Services to Children

and their Families, Department of Human Services, Victoria, June

Melbourne International

Health and Justice Group (MIHJG) 2002, submission to the Human Rights

and Equal Opportunities Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration

Detention, unpublished

Neustatter, A. 2002,

'Little Hopes', in The Guardian, 30 April

OCSC (Office of the

Correctional Services Commissioner) 2001, Statistical Profile: The

Victorian Prison System 1995/1996 to 1999/2000, Department of Justice,


Osburn, A. &

Mibank, J. 1987, The Effects of Early Education: A Report from the

Child Health and Education Study, Clarendon Press, Oxford, cited in

McCain & Mustard 1999, Reversing the Real Brain Drain: Early Years

Study - Final Report, Ontario, Canada, Aprild

Phillips, S. 2001,

'Multiculturalism, advocacy and mental health: The connections between

cultural diversity and social wellbeing', Paper delivered at Thinking

Well - Mental Health and Wellbeing: Everybody's Business, conference,

Preston, 20 - 21 September 2001: 6.

Senate Employment,

Education and Training References Committee 1996, Childhood Matters:

The Report on the Inquiry into Childhood Education, Canberra, Australia

Steel, Z. & Silove,

D. 2001, 'The mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers',

in Medical Journal of Australia, 175: 596-599.

Stephens, T. 2001,

'Barbed-wire playground', Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December.

Sultan, A. &

O'Sullivan, K. 2001, 'Psychological disturbances in asylum seekers held

in long term detention: a participant-observer account', in Medical

Journal of Australia, 175: 587 - 589.

Sydney Morning

Herald 2002, 'Sydney's new class struggle', 30 April.

Tay, A, 2000, 'Treatment

of refugees should come from the heart', Sydney Morning Herald,

19 December.


Updated 10 October 2002.