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Rural and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

Rural and Remote

Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

E. Barriers

to participation and success


are significant barriers to access and to effective learning by Indigenous

children in both primary and secondary education. These barriers include

the lack of relevance of the curriculum and education generally, racism

and discrimination at all levels in society including the school environment

and the classroom, poor health, lack of opportunity for the involvement

of parents and community in school based delivery of education, levels

of incarceration, unemployment and availability of suitable teachers.

These exacerbate the already poor quality or lack of availability of the

physical school environment (ATSIC submission, page 21).

[There are] significant

shortcomings within the education system which has failed Indigenous

people in a number of ways. These include, for example, the lack of

relevance to Indigenous needs, culture, knowledge and experience; failure

to engage Indigenous children in the learning process, particularly

beyond the compulsory years; failure to effectively address the issues

of racism and discrimination experienced by Indigenous students, both

in the school environment and in the job market; failure to effectively

involve parents and communities in their children's education and the

inadequate number of teachers with appropriate skills and cultural knowledge

and the lack of facilities available to students in rural and remote


Apart from the

problems created by a flawed education system, Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander people also are greatly disadvantaged in other fundamental

areas of their lives. Factors such as poverty, substandard housing and

overcrowding, poor health, domestic violence, contact with the law and

unemployment all adversely affect educational outcomes. The barriers

and socioeconomic disadvantages are faced by Indigenous people in both

rural and urban areas.

However, in the

rural areas they are compounded as a result of geographic isolation.

For example, the lack of secondary schools in rural and remote areas

means that significant numbers of children generally either have to

leave their communities to pursue secondary schooling, pursue secondary

schooling through distance education or not pursue such education at

all. These options are far from satisfactory.

Leaving home to

attend school in a capital city or regional centre can be a traumatic

experience for Indigenous children from both rural and remote locations

and their absence can have a detrimental effect on the communities they

leave behind. For a number of reasons, Aboriginal people have not participated

to any meaningful extent in distance education and School of the Air

programs. One reason - and this impacts on the delivery of Indigenous

education in general - is that many parents perceive their lack of resources

and literacy and numeracy skills as barriers to their children's participation

in such programs, nor have advances in technology proved the solution

they promised to be (David Curtis, ATSIC Commissioner, Melbourne

hearing, 12 November 1999).

Levels of absenteeism,

inappropriateness of the curriculum, the scarcity of teachers with Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Islander education expertise, the absolute - I use

the word "dysfunctionality" again but the lack of capacity of government

departments to coordinate their support for these communities, in my

personal view, is a national disgrace, and something needs to be done

about that (Ian Mackie, Queensland Teachers' Union, Brisbane hearing,

8 October 1999).

This section summarises

evidence to the inquiry under the following headings.

E1 Schools


The inquiry heard

  • that secondary

    schools are not reasonably accessible to a high proportion of Indigenous

    students in the NT

  • that there is

    still a further shortfall of reasonably accessible senior secondary


  • that many remote

    students who board suffer homesickness, are inadequately supported and

    frequently do not complete their education

  • that even primary

    schooling is not reasonably accessible for some children

  • that Distance

    Education is often unsuitable for Indigenous students and that their

    participation in DE is minimal

  • that resources

    and facilities at many schools provided for Indigenous students are

    substandard or inappropriate - for example failing to compensate for

    high rates of hearing impairment

  • that the quality

    or standard of education both delivered and expected is sometimes very



Accessibility of secondary education


to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody as many as 10,000

to 12,000 Indigenous students aged between 12 and 15 years living in remote

communities do not attend education facilities because of a lack of post-primary

schooling facilities within a reasonable distance of their home. The reluctance

of Indigenous students to leave their home town is due to a lack of financial

and emotional support in the cities"37 (quoted in ATSIC

submission, page 16). An inadequate number of secondary schools, the

lack of teachers with appropriate skills and cultural experience, and

the failure of the distance education and school of the air programs to

meet the needs of Indigenous students mean that Indigenous young people

do not have adequate access to secondary and post compulsory schooling.

Young people either have to go to boarding school at great distance, which

is traumatic for many of them or not go to school. This suggests that

greater effort should be focussed on how best to provide educational services

in rural and remote communities (ATSIC submission, page 35).

[In the NT] several

options exist through which Indigenous students may access secondary

education. These include

  • attend boarding

    schools. In the Northern Territory, Yirara,

  • St Phillip's,

    Kormilda and St John's secondary colleges all offer residential facilities

  • move to an urban

    area. Some parents have used this option as it enables their children

    to access formal secondary education through a conventional high school

  • secondary studies

    through the Open Education Centre. This option is increasingly being

    utilised by Indigenous students who wish to remain in their home communities.

    Through the Open Education Centre, students have access to the Northern

    Territory Board of Studies approved curriculum. Students in most locations

    also have access through electronic technologies such as the Electronic

    Classroom, which enables them to talk and exchange written work via

    computer with their teachers on a daily basis

  • secondary bridging

    courses. On completion of primary schooling, students attending Community

    Education Centres (CECs) who are not academically ready for formal

    secondary studies through the Open Education Centre, may enrol in

    one of three Northern Territory Board of Studies approved secondary

    education bridging courses. These courses have been developed in recognition

    that most Indigenous students in remote areas, as well as being learners

    of English as a second or foreign language, often do not have the

    English literacy and numeracy skills to successfully undertake a formal

    secondary education program.

Another option currently

being trialed in conjunction with the Catholic Education Office is the

secondary 'area school' trial at Bathurst Island. Should this trial prove

to be successful, it will provide a model for the extension of formal

secondary education to other remote communities (NT Department of Education

submission, pages 11-12).

Another issue

was, secondary programs for remote students in the communities are mainly

offered by religious colleges, contravening articles 29 and 30 of the

Convention on the Rights of the Child (Beverley Angeles, Indigenous

Education Council, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).


Primary schooling


travel with their children to Banigala to enable their children to attend

school. This means some inconvenience and travel for community members

as communities are too far away from each other to be travelled between

in a day. No funding requirements apply to the families that must relocate

for education (Daguragu NT community meeting, 13 May 1999).

Talking about

getting kids to high school is a bit of a dream if we can't get them

to Year 6 or 7 (Daguragu NT community meeting, 13 May 1999).



After completing

the NT Pathways Program the students have the opportunity to continue

their secondary education in Perth or in Darwin. In the past year we had

6 students in the capital cities. The year before we had 4 students who

went to Perth but 3 of them only lasted for one term, they got too homesick

and they came home (Billiluna WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

They are away

from their families and their culture, the language is different. At

times they are inclined to only stay down in Perth about three months

or so and then they come back and they don't want to go back [to Perth]

because they are away from their families. They should be given a chance

for education in their own area, within their own language and to speak

their own dialects (Tom Birch, Kimberley Land Council, Broome hearing,

20 May 1999).

I worked at a

boarding school for 15 years. A lot of children who came to boarding

school from remote communities did not last there. They left school

and went back because they missed their family and friends. These kids

have a strong connection with their community so it is difficult for

them when they leave. If they had support groups to help them they might

be able to cope better at boarding school (Normanton Qld public meeting,

5 October 1999).

I don't want my

child to have to leave Normanton after Year 10 to go to boarding school.

I would like him to be able to do the last 2 years of school here, not

through distance education but at a real school (Normanton Qld public

meeting, 5 October 1999).


Distance education

The only

available education for those mob is School of the Air, which is inappropriate

for a lot of them, culturally and in other ways (Beverley Angeles,

Indigenous Education Council, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).


Condition and quality

The general

condition of the school facilities available to Indigenous people in rural

and remote Australia is poor. An inventory of the conditions of these

facilities is urgently required. This includes both the basic structures

and internal services (ATSIC submission, page 35).

If you think I'm

exaggerating we only need to consider why it is that the teachers in

these areas send their own children away to school, provide supplementary

education after school in the home or leave the area to ensure their

own children receive a suitable education (Sister Gwen Bucknell,

Notre Dame University, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).

No non-Aboriginal

kids go to Boggabilla school. The teachers live in Goondiwindi and they

send their kids to school there. It's not a good message though. Boggabilla

school isn't good enough for their kids. It's because of the level -

the education's not good enough (Boggabilla NSW ASSPA Committee meeting,

5 March 1999).

There are many

that are doing courses that wouldn't be considered anywhere else as

a secondary course; they're generally dilute and inadequate courses

(Peter Toyne, Shadow Minister for Education, Darwin hearing, 10 May



E2 Cultural,

community and family issues

The inquiry heard

  • that school programs

    sometimes fail to take into account students' and families' cultural


  • that Indigenous

    parents whose own education experiences were negative are sometimes

    alienated from the school system

  • that in other

    respects, too, the home and family environment may not be conducive

    to the child's education.



School numbers

can fluctuate at different times of the year because of culture too. Towards

mid-year you'll find a lot of the students disappear and go back to their

own homelands or where their families come from. So culture plays a very

important role in determining students needs as well, because they've

got to go to two schools (Martin Bin-Rashid, Department of Family and

Community Services, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).




to the House of Representatives Select Committee on Aboriginal Education,

many parents, as a result of their own educational experiences, have mixed

reactions to schools. If they failed at school they often see school as

a waste of time and do not support their children in school. However,

many parents want their children to achieve at school, but are reluctant

to become involved themselves because schools often make few concessions

to the issue of Aboriginality and parents feel uncomfortable and shy about

going into the school as they tend to see teachers as 'figureheads' and

consequently may find the school situation threatening.38 Further,

the extended family network is crucial to the nurturing role of students

and kin members are often ignored in the school setting, which often assumes

nuclear families to be the norm (ATSIC submission, page 25).

Part of the problem

is that the Aboriginal parents don't understand what is required of

the students. There needs to be something in place to assist them in

understanding what education is about for their children and where they

should go with it. That's a parents education program that needs to

be in place. Because their schooling was so different they don't know

what their children are required to do (Moree NSW community meeting,

4 March 1999).

There are clear

links between attendance and school performance. Many of the parents

of the children did not have significant schooling and so the parents'

experience of school will affect the views of the family to education.

Where the parents and the grandparents have had poor school experiences

or experience of 'dormitory' education then they may not have positive

views of school education (Billiluna WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

For a lot of Indigenous

people, they do not see any sense in the education system and they don't

support their kids, mainly because they don't understand it themselves.

We have a couple of generations that have been failed miserably by our

education system and they are quite unable to teach the children or

to even encourage the children to go to school (Judy Adam, Centrelink,

Moree hearing, 4 March 1999).


Poverty and related issues

... You

can change and you can educate a child as much as you want to here but

if you are going to throw that child back into a very dysfunctional home

environment the chances of that child carrying on or using whatever they

learn there is very hard because the support isn't there for them to be

able to carry it out ... (Esther Bevan, Catholic Education Aboriginal

Committee, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999). It's been said to me on a

few occasions that kids won't go to school because they haven't been fed,

they don't have clothes to wear, they don't have shoes to wear, and they

don't have paper and pen when they get to school. So therefore, they are

not going to go (Judy Adam, Centrelink, Moree hearing, 4 March 1999).

The transient

nature of Aboriginal students becomes a heightened difficulty, especially

as employment becomes more difficult. Our community is travelling around

for jobs. It's become obvious that if we are going to produce results

in terms of literacy and numeracy, then the kids can't afford to do

a restart at every school, we need to develop some sort of mobility

tracking so that those students' work and levels can travel with them.

There is a program that I think is of some merit, called Tracking Mobility.

It was a one-off program which needs further development, so that technologically

now those kids can have their results moved with them, so that they

can be picked up in programs of literacy and numeracy (Professor

John Lester, NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, Sydney hearing,

22 October 1999).

Poverty adds considerably

to the difficulties of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

seeking to cope with schooling. The home environment can be linked with

low educational achievements of Indigenous students. Overcrowding, lack

of furniture and poor lighting impact on the Indigenous students' capacity

to complete homework. In turn, many Indigenous families in these situations

experience difficulties when trying to support their students in matters

such as regular attendance at school, homework and wearing school uniforms

(ATSIC submission, page 27).

E3 Ill-health

and lack of services

As a direct

result of poverty many Indigenous children suffer from acute health problems

such as under nutrition, hepatitis B and anaemia which affects their ability

to learn at school as well as their attendance. Vision and hearing difficulties

occur very commonly and Indigenous children are susceptible to a broad

range of infectious diseases. Major ear diseases such as Otitis Media

impair learning ability. Hearing problems may account for some of the

classroom 'disruption' where hearing impaired Indigenous children make

use of their peers (often seated adjacent) to 'translate'. In conventionally

structured class situations, such activity is likely to be interpreted

by teachers as disruptive behaviour and the removal of this source can

disadvantage a child's progress. Otitis Media and other health problems

also account for frequent absences from school for many Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islander people (ATSIC submission, pages 27-28).

The inquiry heard

  • that, like the

    Indigenous community generally, Indigenous children are significantly

    more likely to suffer debilitating health problems and that these impact

    in substantial ways upon their education prospects

  • that otitis media

    and consequent hearing impairment is very widely spread among Indigenous


  • that, as in rural

    areas generally, specialist health and related services are seriously


  • that there is

    evidence of discriminatory treatment of Indigenous schools and students.



The World Health

Organisation conducted a health survey through the Failure to Thrive committee

in Halls Creek entitled Child Malnutrition in the Shire of Halls Creek.

This document compares under 5's with severe malnutrition with children

in developing countries. "We have higher levels than Cambodia and Kenya

and many other countries" (Billiluna WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

We have

children here with foetal alcohol syndrome. We are not really sure of

their learning capacity. In the younger years it is not so much of a problem

but we have one girl here who is nearly 14 and she can barely write her

name. This child is also developmentally delayed. She has been tested

once before and she once had access to an occupational therapist. Students

with foetal alcohol syndrome really need an integration aide (Billiluna

WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

Our children do

not have much energy. You get a few hours of work out of them and then

they say they are 'weak'. 'We are weak, we are slack' (Billiluna

WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

There are health

factors related to food. There are fizzy drinks and cakes but I don't

think the store will take them out. We don't sell that at the school.

There is a real problem with the store and it is up to the storekeeper

to provide health foods like fruit and vegetables. There are times when

there is no fruit or vegetables in the store. The cost of the food is

another issue. A tomato can cost $1.00 and pears can cost $3.50 each.

I once payed $7.00 for half a cabbage. The store is owned by the community

but not run by the community. While they charge huge prices they always

leave with debts and this happens again and again. Most of the storekeepers

stay only a year. In the last 4 years we have gone through close to

20 storekeepers. That is a reflection on the administrator and whether

the storekeeper can get on with the administrator (Billiluna WA school

meeting, 14 May 1999).


Otitis media

The inquiry heard

of high rates of hearing loss caused by otitis media among school students

in NT, WA, NSW and Queensland.

... the

need connected with otitis media and hearing impairment alone would be

a very major special education area. At any one time 40% of the students

in Yuendumu school had significant hearing loss due to otitis. The best

way to find out what that means to a teacher in practical terms is - if

you put on a set of industrial earphones or headset like they use, say,

at an airport, people that are working around jet engines, and hear what

you actually hear, which is a very dead, very lifeless version of sounds

around you, that's what those kids are dealing in a classroom... (Peter

Toyne, Shadow Minister for Education, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).

I heard a report

on Radio National about a school in Queensland where only two students

had not had hearing loss and some of the other students had quite severe

hearing loss, so it wasn't an attitudinal problem when they weren't

following instructions, they just hadn't heard. A lot of that was due

to hearing infections (Moree NSW community meeting, 4 March 1999).

Quite a number

of children have hearing disabilities. We have 6 children who had a

referral to the ear specialists out of 40 children. Two of those 6 children

have priority one ear operations. We have one child who has no hearing

and no speech. He floats between two communities. One child has recently

had an ear operation. It might be next year before the ear specialist

comes so it might be a long time before these children have an ear operation

(Billiluna WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

Clearly, otitis

media is a major health issue for Aboriginal families and children and

any child with a conductive hearing loss is going to be at a disadvantage

in the classroom (George Green, NSW Department of Education and Training,

Sydney hearing, 22 October 1999).


80% of kids have hearing problems. In the primary school we have speakers

in the classrooms. We also give the kids education about how to deal

with hearing problems. Audiologists visit once a year to do hearing

checks but there is no follow-up (Doomadgee Qld community meeting,

6 October 1999).


Lack of services

Basic screening

happens but there is no real follow-up with specialists and there is no

screening for intellectual disability. Screening is focused on pre-primary

and Year 1 primary. They will see the other children if they have time.

The follow up for children with Otitis Media is poor. It doesn't show

up every time. With the changeover of nursing staff there is no continuity

(Billiluna WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

There is a teacher

of the deaf in Broome. But this person does not have money for travel

nor does he have a vehicle. Through lobbying his boss we were able to

get money for travel and so he should travel here this year. He has

been good in obtaining information about the hearing disabilities of

the children here (Billiluna WA school meeting, 14 May 1999).

The school receives

departmental support in dealing with student problems. An officer of

the Education Department visits the school twice each term to discuss

issues. She is also contactable between visits by phone and fax. While

she does her best, she is not at the school long enough to have proper

talks with students, parents and teachers. We have to share her with

eight other schools so this limits the amount of attention she can give

us (Normanton Qld teachers meeting, 5 October 1999).

It's a lack of

personnel, and funding runs out and programs get discontinued. There's

a lack of staff and a lack of training. Maybe it's a matter of community

health and the AMS and the hospital getting together and sharing resources

(Brewarrina NSW community meeting, 2 March 1999).


Evidence of discrimination

This is

the same with the school nurse. It is essential that the nurses remain

in the school. There is a terrible injustice in that when you consider

Indigenous health, we find that the nurses are provided by the NT Government

to white schools and not to the Aboriginal schools (Nhulunbuy NT community

meeting, 12 May 1999).

There are drug

and alcohol programs for young people but they don't address the needs

of Indigenous youth (Normanton Qld public meeting, 5 October 1999).

Last year we got

no speech pathologist service, no behavioural management service and

we have got children with high needs in both of these areas. Recently

we made a request for a guidance officer to come to the school and once

again we were told that they had to prioritise the town over us (Lajamanu

NT community meeting, 13 May 1999).

We've got a lot

of special needs students. They need to have a full opportunity and

have adequate facilities. Most of them are disadvantaged group. For

example in Stuart Park in Darwin they've got a special needs class and

a special needs teacher; but in Aboriginal communities we want the same

(Rosalind Djuwandayngu, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).


E4 Failure

to value and reflect Indigenous experience

The inquiry heard

  • that the Australian

    education system was, on the whole, designed to meet the needs, reflect

    the culture and fulfil parent expectations of Anglo-Celtic Australians

    and that Indigenous students are, in the main, expect to accommodate

    themselves to a system which makes little if any effort to accommodate

    itself to them

  • that Indigenous

    knowledge, cultures, values and languages are rarely valued in education

  • that few teachers

    and other education workers know anything about Indigenous cultures,

    values or aspirations

  • that the curriculum

    in most schools pays no more than lip service to Aboriginal history,

    cultures and languages

  • that one consequence

    of this combination of factors is Indigenous students' school refusal

    and 'failure' and parent alienation and hostility.




mainstream schools perpetuate attitudes and values which do not reflect

the culture and lives of Indigenous students (Beverley Angeles, Indigenous

Education Council, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).

Cummings, who

in 1989 stated "the roots of the term education imply drawing out children's

potential, making them more than they were. However, when students come

to school fluent in their primary language and they leave school essentially

monolingual in English we have negated the meaning of the word education

because they have made them less than they were" (Sister Gwen Bucknell,

Notre Dame University, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).


Valuing Indigenous experience

There is

something like 30 odd languages left in the Kimberleys at this time. So

we have such a diverse cultural group of people. That's the other problem

in terms of the education is that we tend to be lumped as one group of

identifiable Aboriginal people without understanding the nature of cultural

subtleties and differences that exist throughout the Kimberleys (Peter

Yu, Kimberley Land Council, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).

My sister teaches

gifted children and if she gets a kid who walks in and can speak two

languages in grade one or two they are absolutely ecstatic, they have

a genius on their hands. Out in the community schools they have kids

that speak five or six languages fluently, none of them being English.

We sit them in a classroom, teach them English and then say these kids

are a bit thick and off the mark. It is an extraordinary analogy (Bush

Talks in South Hedland WA, 20 May 1999).

Single sex classes

work well at the school though due to relatively small numbers of children,

it is often impractical to run these classes. Culture and tradition

dictates that male teachers should teach male children and visa-versa

... there is often a real shortage of male staff in general (Kalkaringi

community meeting, 13 May 1999).


Staff cultural awareness

ATSIC drew attention

to the inconsistency across Australia, but in all jurisdictions the inquiry

heard that provision is inadequate.

[E]ach State

and Territory has different requirements for the training of teachers

to work with Indigenous children, with some systems requiring formal training

and others requiring little or none. As a consequence there is considerable

variation in the skills and abilities of newly trained teachers, many

of whom provide teaching services to communities in remote or rural areas

(ATSIC submission, page 28).

Concern is also

expressed about the number of teachers and principals who do not have

English as a Second Language qualifications and who work in schools

that have a high Aboriginal population or where the students vernacular

is an Aboriginal language. There is also a lack of pre-teacher training

and in-service Aboriginal cultural awareness training provided to teachers

and principals (ATSIC submission, page 29).

The issue of initial

teacher training and ongoing professional development and reskilling

in relation to indigenous education is fundamentally important. Few

teachers can report that their initial training and qualification has

properly prepared them to either teach indigenous students or to provide

non indigenous students with an understanding of the history and culture

of Australia's indigenous people (Independent Education Union submission,

page 16).

... teachers who

take up positions in Aboriginal community schools are generally provided

with little or no cross cultural inservicing [and] little or no access

to advisors or consultants who can assist with particular teaching and

learning strategies for the particular learning needs of their students

(Independent Education Union submission, page 15).

The Education Department

of WA reported in 1998

Edith Cowan

University commenced offering compulsory full education units in Aboriginal

Education and Special Needs Education in 1998. Prior to this, graduate

teachers may have had little or no knowledge of issues impacting on Aboriginal

students ... To date EDWA employees have received little or no Aboriginal

cultural awareness training.39 I understand that during training

it is only compulsory for teachers to complete one unit in Aboriginal

Studies, which is insufficient to prepare them for such a situation (Sister

Gwen Bucknell, Notre Dame University, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).

[M]y initial research

findings would suggest that amongst young teachers quite a sizeable

proportion see Aboriginal children as being difficult. They have heard

from existing teachers and from the news media and so forth about the

difficulties of Aboriginal education and I suspect that, as young teachers,

they are mainly concerned with establishing themselves in the classroom

as classroom managers and their understanding and interpretation of

Aboriginal education tends to be from that perspective; that they see

Aboriginal children as a possible threat to them establishing themselves

in the career that they have chosen (Peter Reynolds, Edith Cowan

University, Perth hearing, 24 May 1999).



They teach

Indonesian and Japanese but not Kamilaroi, in spite of the high numbers

of Aboriginal students (Moree NSW Aboriginal workers meeting, 5 March


Our children study

Indonesian and other languages at school, but they don't learn Aboriginal

languages. They should be able to study their own language (Normanton

Qld public meeting, 5 October 1999).

[At Jabiru school]

- in Languages Other Than English (LOTE) - there's a perfectly viable

Indonesian program of work there but to get an Aboriginal language program

going there is really difficult and involves heaps of commitment, and

commitment to the relation between the community and the school (Michael

Christie, NT University, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).

A survey of WA government

schools in 1997 showed that 88 out of 768 (11.5%) offered Aboriginal Studies

and 29 out of 827 (3.5%) offered programs in 19 Aboriginal languages.

Six of 25 (24%) Aboriginal pre-schools offered Aboriginal languages.40

Once they

arrive at school they're confronted with different culture, different

language, different teaching staff, different values, different expectations

and quite alien class management techniques. Many have difficulty fitting

in and coping (John Roe, Kimberley Work Training, Kununurra hearing,

17 May 1999).



It was particularly

notable that witnesses referred to the much earlier age at which Indigenous

children are expected to take on the responsibilities of adulthood, become

independent and are therefore more likely to succeed in adult education

models than in traditional schools.

How children

are regarded in Aboriginal communities is something that a lot of teachers

come into the school situation with kids not understanding that in many

instances the kids are expected to be treated as adults ... (John Bucknell,

Aboriginal Independent Schools Unit, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).

Independence is

a wonderful thing and it's probably something that the school system

doesn't recognise. Some of those kids are independent from the moment

they walk. And self-sufficient in a lot of ways. That independence is

sometimes at loggerheads with the school system. It's early days in

education for Aboriginal kids I believe (Brewarrina NSW community

meeting, 2 March 1999).

I was the principal

of the TAFE college at Maclean . you need to walk across the road, you

need to walk a path of 20 metres and you can move out of a high school

environment into a TAFE environment. The question I'd ask is, why do

Aboriginal kids who are excluded from that school walk that 20 metres

and all of a sudden become successful in TAFE? I think, quite clearly,

in terms of pedagogy, we need to look very closely at the totally different

aspects that high school teachers, in particular, have, which is opposite

to adult learning techniques that TAFE teachers have as part of their

pedagogy. It's an amazing set of circumstances: a kid that's failing

and being pushed out can walk in and there not be a discipline problem

or anything because of the different way of pedagogy in that environment

(Professor John Lester, NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group,

Sydney hearing, 22 October 1999).

Western value

systems and Western education reinforce the notion that at this age

group, young people are not yet adults. The structures of discipline,

paternalism and control can be very insulting to young people who may

consider themselves adults (Daguragu NT community meeting, 13 May



to Top

E5 Lack

of role models

The school

has two Indigenous people on staff. We should have more given that half

of the students are Indigenous (Boulia Qld teachers meeting, 4 October


The inquiry heard

of the invaluable education supported provided by Indigenous Education

Workers. However, these workers' qualifications are typically undervalued,

their skills are not fully compensated, their career options are limited

and their workload stressful and ever-expanding.

These assistants

work in the school. They understand the students' ways and have a wealth

of local knowledge to draw upon. They are a rich resource that trainee

teachers need to know how to utilise. This raises the question of recognition

of these assistants within the schools. These are the ones who stay on,

these are the role models the students need, these are the people that

represent the community's values and aspirations. How much credit are

these people given for their knowledge? (Sister Gwen Bucknell, Notre

Dame University, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).

There are very few

qualified Indigenous teachers anywhere in Australia.

Based on

statistics provided by schools in February 1999, we have three Aboriginal

teachers in the Kimberley for a total of 1661n Aboriginal students; a

ratio of 1: 553 compared with an overall student: teacher ratio of 1:14.

There are 2.5 front office Aboriginal positions; a ratio of 1: 664. There

are around 73 Aboriginal Education Workers positions in the East Kimberley,

although it's very difficult to get accurate figures on the number of

these positions as many of them are shared by several community members.

This is a ratio of 1:23 but ranges from 1:7 Aboriginal students in some

schools to 1:48 in others (Ian Trust, Kununurra hearing, 17 May 1999).

Of particular

concern is the lack of suitably qualified teachers with, themselves,

an Indigenous background. This means that Indigenous students rarely

have the opportunity to experience education opportunities where the

teacher can identify with their particular needs from an Indigenous

perspective and a cultural perspective (Ian Mackie, Queensland Teachers'

Union, Brisbane hearing, 8 October 1999).

The biggest problem

that we have is that we are white people teaching Aboriginal kids and

we've got 97.5% Aboriginal kids. We are constantly raising teachers'

awareness of where these kids come from. We can only try to understand.

The teachers that are experiencing the most success at our school are

the ones that get out and meet families (Brewarrina NSW community

meeting, 2 March 1999).


to Top

E6 Intolerance

Ignorance and racism

further compound the non-inclusive and alienating nature of mainstream

schooling for many Indigenous students.

Racism in

educational institutions is experienced in a number of ways including

racial abuse and vilification, being treated as children at an educational

institution when they are treated as adults in their homes, being spoken

to in a domineering manner and being made to feel personally guilty for

getting extra money and 'special' benefits. There is also an inherent

structural or institutional racism perpetuated in many educational institutions.

This characteristic is frequently ingrained in staff members so that they

are unaware of its existence. Institutional racism is expressed in many

ways; the most common form is the failure to acknowledge the presence

of Indigenous students and their culture in the educational setting (ATSIC

submission, page 23).

The inquiry heard

of intolerance and exclusion throughout Australia.

The racist

issue is a big issue in Kununurra. The Aboriginal kids feel isolated or

they hang in little groups by themselves (Kununurra WA community meeting,

17 May 1999).

You see people

getting discriminated because of their colour down the street. They

don't really want to go to school and get it there too (Bairnsdale

Vic secondary students meeting, 11 November 1999).

They just can't

play together, I don't know why. But it's the same with Caucasian and

Aboriginal, its both ways (Bourke NSW students meeting, 1 March 1999).

One of our primary

schools had run a unit which was a separate class ... we decided we

would try and place as many children in this group in regular classrooms,

only to find a lot of them didn't come back because they enjoyed the

security ... (Bill Griffiths, Director of Catholic Education, Darwin

hearing, 10 May 1999).

So they work together

in class. They work together in groups. But on a friendship basis out

in the playground, it is still very much Aboriginal groups and non-Aboriginal

groups. And that is something we are working on (Ron Sweaney, Courallie

High School, Moree hearing, 4 March 1999).

I don't think

you'd see a black kid in a job in this town. Previously they might have

been employed in the timber industry or on the railways" (Bairnsdale

Vic public meeting, 11 November 1999).

Our community

is very lacking in cultural diversity and the whole community is very

intolerant. We try to redress that by providing the widest education

we can at the secondary college. We have policies to try to address

racism but you can't catch every incident. We know Koories can't get

jobs in the town. We have a work experience program for Koorie students

to get them out into the community. It's really hard because a lot of

them don't have the confidence to do that. Every time someone does it

it's a model for other kids to follow them" (Bairnsdale Vic public

meeting, 11 November 1999).

There was even evidence

of active discrimination.

When the

kids muck up, they get kicked out of school. And it's for a good long

period of time. The kids see it as grouse: 'We're out of that system,

we don't have to deal with it any more'. White kids get put on in-school

suspension which means they sit outside the office and do their work all

day. The Koorie kids don't get that opportunity to feel like part of the

school. It's 'You follow these rules - and we know you really won't and

we know you really can't - or you're out'. The kids need to feel a part

of the school, to feel ownership of the school and to feel valued and

accepted. Then they might start accepting other cultures in the school

and the rules of the school (Bairnsdale Vic Koorie workers meeting,

11 November 1999).

Many students

feel the Koories get so much advantage that they [the white students]

are being discriminated against. They feel that the Koorie students

get away with things they wouldn't (Bairnsdale Vic public meeting,

11 November 1999).


E7 Other


Other issues raised

with the inquiry which act as barriers to education participation and

success for Indigenous young people include


rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system

An examination41

of the determinants of educational attainment of young Indigenous Australians

has shown that arrest had a powerful effect. The experience of arrest

reduced the likelihood of a young person being in secondary school by

about 26% for males and around 18% for females. Given that Indigenous

people are more like to be involved with police and incarcerated, the

implications of this are disturbing (ATSIC submission, page 26).


rates of early pregnancy

If teenage

pregnancy for Indigenous students is a fact, and what we're finding in

relation to our conversations with people is that it is a fact . why is

this not being planned for in terms of educational provision? There is

not a reason why the system could not provide for alternative delivery,

programs for reintegration, child-care arrangements and support for these

students (Lisa Heap, Australian Education Union, Darwin hearing, 10

May 1999).


alcohol and drug abuse

It's been

big here - petrol - over the last couple of weeks. It's young people:

about 13, 14, even 12. There's some our age too. A range of 10-18 or something

like that. They're only doing it because they haven't got money for marijuana.

That's why they're doing the breaking in. There is most definitely a drug

problem - marijuana, cigarettes, but no heroin although there was a couple

of months back when two people came from Sydney (they were doing it in

the park where kids were and they left needles in the playground where

little kids were running around). Both white and Aboriginal people have

been bringing it in. Some people have been waiting to bash them for it

(Brewarrina NSW students meeting, 2 March 1999).



I think

many of those children are actually disadvantaged through a system that

is driven by a largely Western educational viewpoint ... the Year 3 literacy

test ... totally disadvantages Aboriginal children in terms of making

judgements about the outcomes that they've achieved and their capacity

to learn. There's a complete lack of understanding in terms of that whole

process that many of the kids that are being tested in Year 3, and again

I talk particularly about the Aboriginal students, for many children it's

not the third year of formal schooling for them, it may in fact be their

first six months . I think that's a total misrepresentation and I think

that the flow-on effect from that from a perception point of view again

puts those sets of people at a disadvantage ... (Sister Clare, Notre

Dame University, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).



I wanted

to focus again on the notion of expulsion and suspension as a means of

controlling children in schools. Again, there's very little doubt on this

but I suspect that the groups that are most affected by this are Aboriginal

children, children of colour and children of low socio-economic status.

It's a counter-productive measure because it isolates the very children

that need the education most (Margot Ford, NT University, Darwin hearing,

10 May 1999).

Time-out centres

are not working. They get suspended and agree to go to the time-out

centre. But later you see 50 or 60 kids in the street riding bikes.

They don't care. They should be kept in class - within the school grounds

- and within the responsibility of the Education Department (Moree

NSW Aboriginal workers meeting, 5 March 1999).


of telecommunications

Basic problems

exist with the availability of telecommunications in more remote locations

in terms of cost and availability. For example, as the NT government believes

'the basic services that are available in many [remote] areas of the NT

have insufficient capability or capacity to attach any computing network

device, consequently can provide audible service only'.42 This

limits the opportunities and access for children in remote communities

in the NT and other States with large remote communities to be able to

gain the same levels of skills as their urban counterparts (ATSIC submission,

page 29).

The NT has been

using videoconferencing since 1993 as a Commonwealth supported Aboriginal

Education Program (AEP) project. The impact in terms of student outcomes

has not been as significant as anticipated, nor has the number of participating

communities (ATSIC submission, page 29).



37 Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Islander Commission, July 1996 Submission to the

Senate Inquiry into Indigenous Education, page 21.
38Australia House of Representatives Select Committee on

Aboriginal Education, September 1985, p75.
39 EDWA 1998, A Profile of Aboriginal Education in Government

Schools, page 8.
40 EDWA 1998, A Profile of Aboriginal Education in Government

Schools, page 8.
41 Hunter, B and Schwab, R. 1998 The determinants of Indigenous

educational outcomes, CAEPR Discussion Paper No. 160, Centre for Aboriginal

Economic Policy Research, ANU.
42 Commonwealth Grants Commission Review of General Revenue

Grant Relativities, 1997, NT Submission.



Success stories


updated 2 December 2001.