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
Dean, Faculty of Education, Language and Community Services, RMIT
Professor Terry Lovat
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Education and Arts (Central Coast Portfolio)
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
- What barriers
exist to effective education in immigration detention? How could they
- 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?
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).
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.
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
The following passage
is taken from New Learning: A Charter for Australian Education
(ACDE 2001: 48-9):
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
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:
multiple translations of key materials, and relevant bilingual dictionaries
- 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
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
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.
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