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Rural and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper


and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

H. Recommendations

to the Inquiry

ATSIC proposes

in its submission three basic principles which should form the basis for

progress for Indigenous people in education. These principles are: Community

self-determination within the education system is integral to realising

education outcomes for indigenous children. This is necessary to ensure

acceptance and involvement of Indigenous people in the education system.

Respect for Indigenous

knowledge and a recognition of the need for cultural maintenance should

be apparent in education provided to Indigenous children. This would

provide a foundation and make the education system relevant and appropriate.

And education

needs should be seen in relation to and integrated with other requirements

of the community such as health, housing, general community infrastructure.

This will ensure the effectiveness of education strategies by taking

into consideration the range of other factors impinging on educational

participation and achievement.

The acceptance

of these principles is important to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander people own the education system and its processes for

the achievement of better education outcomes for Indigenous people.

The development of any policies and strategies aimed at achieving better

educational outcomes for Indigenous children must be seen within this

context (David Curtis, ATSIC Commissioner, Melbourne hearing, 12

November 1999).


(1) adoption of the three key guiding principles for Indigenous education,

planning and services; (2) a national forum funded by DETYA to consider

options for a national Indigenous education organisation; (3) establishment

of human rights benchmarks as a basis for monitoring and assessing the

achievements of Indigenous education; (4) increase research effort,

in particular on the relationship between education outcomes and the

various sectors including housing, health, infrastructure, good practice

in Indigenous rural and remote education; (5) an inventory ordered of

all primary and secondary school resources and facilities available

to Indigenous people in rural and remote Australia to be undertaken

by federal and state education departments (David Curtis, ATSIC Commissioner,

Melbourne hearing, 12 November 1999).


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H1 Whole

of government response

The need for a whole-of-government

response to the planning and delivery of Indigenous education recognises

the interdependence of health status, culture, socio-economic status and

education outcomes.

ATSIC believes

that there is a deep and systematic problem in Indigenous education which

requires a concerted approach by governments, communities and education

providers. ATSIC urges that unless the problems are addressed collectively

and underpinned by Indigenous self-determination, efforts to achieve sustainable

improvement in education will be ineffective, and it believes that a holistic

approach is needed because the barriers that Indigenous people face in

education span across other fundamental areas of their lives (David

Curtis, ATSIC Commissioner, Melbourne hearing, 12 November 1999).

Funding to schools

needs to reflect the wider social issues of Indigenous students, transport,

provision of food, clothing, accommodation, assistance with counselling,

medical support (Beverley Angeles, Indigenous Education Council,

Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).


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H2 Indigenous


While there was some

debate about the existence of different Indigenous learning styles, the

weight of evidence favoured the view that at least some adjustment needs

to be made.


differences do impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learning

processes. Historically, schools have failed to reflect Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islander values and learning styles. Consequently, Indigenous

students enter an educational institution where they and their parents

have limited or no experience and if any experience, it is usually a negative

one. Often the value systems and style of the institutions do not reflect

the values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies and do not

always take account of the home experience of Indigenous students. In

addition, the language used in educational institutions is often not the

everyday language of Indigenous students.48

Cultural differences

are also evident in the links between culture and cognitive style, in

the forms of culturally preferred knowledge, in cross-cultural communication

and in culturally relevant teaching and learning strategies (ATSIC

submission, pages 22-23).

Talking and listening

is one of the ones that has been the poor cousin of the other two I

suppose. I think that's really important, especially in communities

with high Aboriginal populations. The oral component of learning is

a really important one (Daryl Thompson, Brewarrina hearing, 2 March


The emphasis is

on teaching in a culturally appropriate manner. The teacher should hang

back and let the older ways of learning take precedence so that learning

is an extension of the daily life. This might address some of the truancy

and attendance issues (Halls Creek WA community meeting, 18 May 1999).

When learning

a different kind of knowledge ie Western concepts and pedagogy, it is

important that the traditional values and knowledge continue to be not

only valued and respected but also drawn into all aspects of the education

environment (ATSIC submission, page 22).

The kids want

more sport and manual arts. They want to go out bush. They need practical

training as part of their schooling too. They don't want to spend all

of their time in the classroom (Doomadgee Qld community meeting,

6 October 1999).

The argument for

cultural immersion was put by a number of witnesses.

... quite

clearly, the overwhelming push amongst Indigenous people in education

worldwide is for cultural immersion. There is a huge rejection of perspectives

to curricula because they believe they're piecemeal and won't work. To

quote one of the Maori elders of the time, "We need to bring in and immerse"

- he was talking, obviously, about his own culture - "their kids in Maoritanga

language and live it and breathe it in the school environment." That has

extended and flowed on to tertiary levels; so they now have, right through

to tertiary levels and teacher training in Maoritanga. Quite clearly,

I see that that's where we need to go and the AECG would be of that opinion

. I think cultural immersion through Indigenous schools, publicly funded,

are a real option that we need to look at, where we can give back culture

and regenerate that in terms that Indigenous people control.


My vision would

be that we need to target no differently than we target schools for

those that are intellectually enhanced. So that schools that are selective

high schools - and we've been doing that for decades - and schools now

where we see - sporting high schools, music high schools - I think,

in the same vein, we need to create a number of at least pilots, and

I would think in rural locations, well supported by hostel support,

these cultural immersion schools, where we can put Indigenous people

into these environments, and provide them with the best in terms of

executive support staff (Professor John Lester, NSW Aboriginal Education

Consultative Group, Sydney hearing, 22 October 1999).

This is what we've

got to teach children in our first language. There's contents such as

social education, bush medicines as a topic, (indistinct) relationship

and kinship and relationships, history of our land, significant things.

What created the land, that's part of our culture and language. It goes

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

We need an education

that is culturally appropriate, because there's - and it's an issue

that was raised by the previous group, and it's a constant issue because

education worldwide is coming out of a western paradigm and comes with

its own culture, and somehow we've got to include Aboriginal people,

include Aboriginal content, to try and nullify, to some degree, that

western culture (Veronica Arbon, Batchelor College, Darwin hearing,

10 May 1999).

We supported the

concept of Aboriginal schools, that is, schools that would have an Aboriginal

focus, would have Aboriginal teachers, not schools that would have an

absolutely selective enrolment. What we were prepared to support - I

think this was the proposition - would be that the schools would clearly

advertise what they had to offer but that others in the community could

also attend that so that they would be substantially Aboriginal schools.

I think if it

was actually race-based, it would raise concerns about issues like the

discrimination laws in the States and apartheid and so on. But we did

support the concept of schools that were run by Aboriginal people for

Aboriginal students.


We certainly have

concerns about anything that would close off options. Hopefully the

students at any school would have the opportunity to do the School Certificate

and the HSC, that they wouldn't have a curriculum that didn't provide

them the opportunities that others had; but I wouldn't think that people

in the community would want that either, so I wouldn't expect that that

would be a problem (Wayne Patterson, NSW Teachers' Federation, Sydney

hearing, 22 October 1999).


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H3 Bilingual


As noted above, there

was strong support for bilingual education for children whose first language

is not English.

It is considered

that bilingual programs contain significant educational advantages for

Indigenous persons whose first language is not English. A bilingual program

implicitly recognises and respects the individual's culture and language.

In this regard the school or educational setting becomes an agent of cultural

continuity. The educational curriculum becomes more accessible to the

student who is operating in a familiar language area and therefore feels

more secure. The student's language identifies them with their language

group and the use of their own language enhances their self-confidence

and self-concepts that improves their educational prospects (ATSIC

submission, page 24).

The issue of bilingual

education is one that has a lot of significance and importance for ATSIC,

and we see that as an area that states really should be providing much

more leadership in allowing communities to make a decision about how

they integrate languages into the education process. ATSIC's view, has

been that it is a community's decision on how they want to do it because

different communities want to approach education in different ways.

Some want to focus on bilingual - being taught in their own language

first as a vehicle into learning English, and others would rather go

straight into English (Lewis Hawke, ATSIC, Melbourne hearing, 12

November 1999).

One of the basic

human rights is for a child to experience education in their cultural

context and in their own first language, and for many children who are

Indigenous, non-English speaking migrants or refugees in rural and remote

areas, this simply isn't available. Now, what that does is raise the

implications for education departments with a provision of teachers

for English as a second language. So there's a professional need (Dr

David McSwan, James Cook University, Brisbane hearing, 8 October 1999).

First of all,

we don't want people making assimilations. We want to try and work on

this to improve children's first language then we'll think about learning

the other language, the foreign language which is called English (Rosalind

Djuwandayngu, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).


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H4 Aboriginal


The importance of

teaching Indigenous culture, local history and local Indigenous languages

to all children was emphasised.

The racism

won't change until Koorie culture is compulsory in the curriculum (Bairnsdale

Vic Koorie workers meeting, 11 November 1999).

We have Aboriginal

Studies and we don't know anything about our culture. They don't get

no elders to come in and talk to us. All we do is watch silly little

videos. And some things that aren't even involved with our culture.

No Aboriginal Education worker participates in Aboriginal Studies. I

think we need an Aboriginal teacher in the school who can teach us about

our culture (Brewarrina NSW students meeting, 2 March 1999).

Indigenous languages

are not taught here. They should bring the old people down to the school

so that they can teach the children about language and culture. The

school is not really serious about culture. They might employ people

to teach it but they are not really committed (Doomadgee Qld community

meeting, 6 October 1999).

The elders need

structured support though. Going into a classroom is difficult for traditional

people who are not used to being in the classroom; it is not their natural

environment. Nobody would expect these old ladies to take the classes

of kids. It is not as though they could go into a classroom and teach

30 children. The elders are eager to teach the language but they need

support and they need literacy support (Halls Creek WA community

meeting, 18 May 1999).


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H5 Community


The role of Indigenous

educators was held in general high esteem by witnesses. There were calls

for wider involvement by Indigenous culture and language experts in schools.

The challenge is to build bridges between the school and Indigenous families

and communities.

A really

important one, I think, is to recognise the Aboriginal community members

as playing a key role in supporting students at school and to provide

funding for these people as employees in the school. We find at Yipirinya

School that, if the students have got family there, they're more inclined

to come to school and to stay there. If there's no-one there, family,

you might get them for the odd one or two days a week or a few weeks and

then you don't see them again (Beverley Angeles, Indigenous Education

Council, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).

The involvement

of Indigenous parents in their children's education is one of the key

ways in which the schooling system can be made more relevant to Indigenous

communities. Parents promote student learning through encouragement,

expending resources, imparting their own knowledge as to how the education

system works and making decisions in regards to the educations options

that should be pursued (ATSIC submission, page 24).

The involvement

of parents and communities in the school environment and decision making

is considered crucial to the improvement of participation, achievement

and outcomes for Indigenous students. It is crucial that parents be

provided with the skills and resources to effectively participate and

to be active partners in the education of their children. This means

ensuring that parents of students have access, where necessary, to education

or training to ensure adequate literacy and numeracy skills, an understanding

of how schools and education systems operate, and most importantly what

parental rights are in advocating on behalf of their children in the

school environment (ATSIC submission, page 26).

That funding and

services to improve education outcomes for Aboriginal students continue

to be a priority and that a new initiative focussing on Aboriginal parents

as first teachers be developed to enhance literacy and numeracy achievements

for Aboriginal children to national standards by the completion of Year

3 (SA Government submission, page 18).

A school-community

liaison officer is needed at the school. This is currently not an option

for the Kalkaringi School. The NT Government has not allocated funds

for this position. Nevertheless, it is often family problems that keep

the children at home. It is also important that this role promote the

benefits of schooling throughout the communities (Kalkaringi NT community

meeting, 13 May 1999).

There is a lack

of communication between the school and the community. The teachers

need to talk to the parents more. They need to come into the parents'

homes and show them respect. If children see the parents and the school

working together, attendance will improve and they will respond better

to their teachers (Doomadgee Qld community meeting, 6 October 1999).

I really do believe

that if we're going to overcome some of the negative experiences that

people have had with their education, one way to break down barriers

is to get out and meet people (Ruythe Dufty, Principal Brewarrina

Central School, Brewarrina hearing, 2 March 1999).


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H6 Family

and community ownership

While greater parent

and community involvement will create a sense of shared ownership, there

were also calls for the devolution of real community ownership of children's


We want

to have ownership of the program; people need to be proud of what they

are and what we are. We don't want people coming into our school and changing

everything. It happened a long time ago, assimilation, and now we're going

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

Jimmy has mentioned

before that we're heading towards the right path, towards running things

for ourselves, the Tiwi people. We're heading towards 2010 maybe sooner,

to take over the main positions that the non Tiwis have on this island.

We are heading towards this position and as you know education is a

major key, it plays a major role towards that. So the education has

to be one that our children are happy with and we want our children

to succeed and to achieve outcomes in that process (Nguiu NT community

meeting, 11 May 1999).


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H7 Delivering

secondary schooling

Recommendations to

overcome the lack of realistically accessible secondary schooling for

many Indigenous students came principally from the Northern Territory.

... one

of the things we would like to see is an innovative way that secondary

education is actually provided because a lot of the constraints that governments

talk about in terms of providing education in remote areas relate to a

conventional model of delivery, and I think they really need to start

looking at innovative ways of providing education to relatively small

numbers in a diverse group (Lewis Hawke, ATSIC, Melbourne hearing,

12 November 1999).

... it's about

getting schools or getting education systems to be responsive at that

local level because it's a diversity of views and a diversity of communities

and a diversity of circumstances that education systems are trying to

deal with, and the one size fits all approach which seems to be the

common denominator in many of these cases just doesn't work. It does

fail. It doesn't assist communities to develop their economic and community

and cultural potential that is very much there (Chris Sadleir, ATSIC,

Melbourne hearing, 12 November 1999).

Using existing

facilities with some minor modifications, finding staff - which can

be difficult but not impossible - working out a curriculum negotiating

with the community . secondary education is very cultural specific in

my view; much more than primary education. There's a whole raft of stuff

which is implicit in the way secondary education works and teachers

look at their role. So I think we've got to hasten slowly with that

(Bill Griffiths, Director of Catholic Education, Darwin hearing,

10 May 1999).

Alternate forms

of educating on the communities so that it isn't necessary for students

to leave their homes. This is one of the models being worked on . mixed-mode

multi-campus model, which is where you have various modes of getting

the course material in front of the students. Some of it might be correspondence,

some electronically-based through computer contacts and things like

video conferencing (Peter Toyne, Shadow Minister for Education, Darwin

hearing, 10 May 1999).


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H8 Addressing

ignorance and intolerance

The adverse impact

of racism on Indigenous students and their education prospects has been

noted above. Suggestions were made on combating ignorance and intolerance

among teachers, administrators, students and parents.

Until it's

embedded in the school curriculum and it becomes part of the ethos of

the school, at a deeper level, and there's acknowledgment that institutional

racism does occur, that teachers can be racist, that children can be racist

and school activities can not so much promote racism but do very little

to stop it happening - so if there's an anti-racist policy, it's something

that then is embedded in the whole curriculum, it's written in black and

white, so to speak, and therefore can be accessed by students and teachers

alike. There's also an accountability factor then, that the school itself

has to be accountable in those terms, in the same way at the moment that

many schools hold themselves accountable in sexual harassment cases. The

children know and can be educated about a policy (Margot Ford, NT University,

Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).

In terms of potential

racism, we cannot forget the front office staff, and we need some affirmative

action there to either train existing office staff in terms of culturally

appropriate programs, because if an Aboriginal parent's going to be

switched off, quite often that happens before they get past the front

desk; and quite clearly we need some affirmative action in terms of

making sure that Aboriginal people get access to these fairly elite

and, in a community, very influential positions, especially the smaller

communities (Professor John Lester, NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative

Group, Sydney hearing, 22 October 1999).


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H9 Addressing

specific needs

Measures to address

specific needs for individual children were proposed including measures

to compensate for hearing impairments, nutrition deficits and domestic


Mostly it

cycles so that at any one time the 40% that have got a hearing impairment

will be a different list of names, year to year and even parts of years.

So really you have to have strategies that prepare the teaching space

to maximise the teacher's chances of dealing with hearing-impaired kids

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


[T]he department

of education needs to attend to making teachers competent in the understanding

of the educational procedures and the hearing disabilities of children.

We have, in some communities, 100% of children arriving at school having

had otitis media, and would, by then, have lifelong hearing damage,

and some will have never heard some of the sounds in the English language,

which places them at a disadvantage in terms of being able to read and

to spell. It accounts for, in many cases, absenteeism, behaviour problems,

and there's a cluster. I think we need to give much more attention to

that (Dr David McSwan, James Cook University, Brisbane hearing, 8

October 1999).

... to assist

the children that our students teach or will teach we urgently recommend

that even at the risk of sounding maternalistic that the nutritional

and health needs of the children be met. An emergency measure, maybe

the introduction of a breakfast program (Sister Clare, Notre Dame

University, Broome hearing, 20 May 1999).

I had a meeting

at the school recently and one of the big issues raised was a lack of

communication between the school and the community. They suggested that

they should have a full-time counsellor at the school so that the children

could talk about their problems, especially about the violence in their

lives (Halls Creek WA community meeting, 18 May 1999).

... parents around

Halls Creek that was one of the things that they said they really wanted

their kids to come out of school with was better conflict resolution

skills because they had to learn that fighting wasn't necessarily the

way of solving problems; that violence and fighting in the community

was a really big issue and that wasn't really reflected in school and

wasn't a skill that kids were coming out with (John Roe, Kimberley

Work Training, Kununurra hearing, 17 May 1999).

At Yipirinya School,

we've implemented a scaffold literacy approach, which we are hoping

will address that issue. A higher rate of teachers to students is needed

too in the learning situation, as intensive one-on-one work is needed

for a lot of our students (Beverley Angeles, Indigenous Education

Council, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).

Peer mentoring

(high-achieving students assisting others) and role modelling (AEAs

and other Aboriginal people coming into the school) are very important

(Moree NSW Aboriginal workers meeting, 5 March 1999).


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Other recommendations

A range of other

recommendations was made including needs for further research, greater

consultation and accountability and enhanced flexibility.


On the one

hand, I think we need to have some research into the extent of discriminatory

practices in Australian schools, and one way of doing this would be to

take a random example of schools across the country and examine discipline

records, such as expulsions and suspensions, and match these for gender,

ethnicity and socio-economic status, to have a sense of what is going

on (Margot Ford, NT University, Darwin hearing, 10 May 1999).

We also think

it's worth looking at what goes on in other countries, and the countries

that we've named in particular are New Zealand and Canada, where they

have certainly - in terms of their Indigenous populations - done some

work and there may be some learnings from those. So there's been a fair

amount of work done there. There has been stuff done on self-determination.

They seem to have advanced to those agendas of reconciliation further

than we have at this point, at least in terms of government action,

and perhaps there are things we could learn from that (Lynne Rolley,

Independent Education Union, Melbourne hearing, 12 November 1999).


and accountability

We're now

in the ludicrous situation where the head of the AECG ... now meets with

an assistant to an assistant to an assistant to a director, and they still

call the meeting the director-general's meeting. I'm really worried that

that level of negotiation isn't taking place. We've ceded, a few weeks

ago, with a meeting with the minister, and also with the director-general

of education, the same things we've spoken to you about, we are in crisis.

Our situation isn't improving. We actually said to him, "We're not saying

that the effort isn't being made, but the effort's not being made in the

right direction". What we ask from them - and I'm still waiting to hear

a reply - is that we need a major search conference, where Indigenous

people can get together and critically look at where to next, because

the current policies aren't working (Professor John Lester, NSW Aboriginal

Education Consultative Group, Sydney hearing, 22 October 1999).

We cannot express

how important it is to have a monitoring and reporting process in place

to achieve equitable outcomes for all Aboriginal people, not only at

a state but also a national level so as the state models are succinct

with the national priorities, and that a national independent report

be conducted and published each year so that the national goals are

achieved (Kim Collard, WA Aboriginal Education and Training Council,

Perth hearing, 24 May 1999).


The school

timetable should be flexible enough to cater for community needs and circumstances.

In the summer it gets very hot, so the school would be better off commencing

classes early and finishing at around 2.00pm. Another option might be

to close the school during summer and have longer hours during winter.

ALSO School term dates should also be flexible enough to cater for the

wet season, when many children are not able to travel to school because

of prolonged flooding (Normanton Qld public meeting, 5 October 1999).




support, administrative as well as financial needs to be given to the

professional development of Indigenous staff both on-site and through

tertiary institutions to assist in redressing this unequal relationship

(John Bucknell, Aboriginal Independent Schools Unit, Broome hearing,

20 May 1999).

The last point

is support through scholarships, HECS payments to get qualified Aboriginal

people employed in the education system, both mainstream and independent

(Beverley Angeles, Indigenous Education Council, Darwin hearing,

10 May 1999).



who work in Indigenous communities should be carefully screened for their

knowledge and understanding of Indigenous cultural issues (Doomadgee

Qld community meeting, 6 October 1999).




for the, particularly, underprivileged, we would say, multiply underprivileged,

means priority for those students, and so they should be getting additional

pieces of the cake... It is no longer good enough to say that we will

look at the way that we rearrange the crumbs on the table and think that

those that fall off will be good enough for our most remote and most underprivileged

students (Robert Laird, Australian Education Union, Darwin hearing,

10 May 1999).


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Recommendations of 'Learning lessons'



Is the report of the review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory

conducted in 1999 by former Senator Bob Collins. The NT Minister for Education

has summarised the key themes underlying the report's recommendations.


Lessons' reports a growing awareness by Indigenous people, teachers and

the wider community that solutions must address a range

of factors - that education cannot be treated in isolation from other

service delivery areas such as health, housing and policing. I cannot

stress enough that poor attendance, poor health and a lack of strong community

support directly impacts on educational outcomes.

The Review's recommendations

centre on some important themes:

  • Developing strong,

    high level partnerships with Indigenous leaders, communities and other

    important stakeholders;

  • Increasing school

    attendance and developing effective tracking systems with the full

    involvement of Indigenous parents;

  • Improving school

    facilities, teacher housing and telecommunications infrastructure

    in remote communities;

  • Expanding and

    improving the curriculum, particularly in relation to ESL and "two-way

    learning" programs;

  • Developing further

    options for secondary schooling and vocational education and training;

  • Improving strategies

    for recruitment, retention and Indigenous employment; and

  • Recording, monitoring

    and reporting meaningful data on educational outcomes.

The Review also reaffirms

that lasting improvements in Indigenous education outcomes will continue

to require whole of government commitment within the Northern Territory,

including an enhanced working relationship with the Commonwealth Government.

"Whole of Government"

is not a catch phrase Mr Speaker. It underpins an increased effort on

our part to see better linkages and cooperative working arrangements

between departments and agencies (NT Education Minister, Statement

to Parliament, 24 November 1999).


48 Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Islander Commission, July 1996 Submission to the

Senate Inquiry into Indigenous Education, ATSIC, Pg 12.


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updated 2 December 2001.