and Remote Education - WA
Billiluna school meeting,
14 May 1999 - notes
Education Centre (KCEC) provides schooling for 40 children in Billiluna,
located on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. KCEC predominantly caters
for primary school children though they are now in their second year of
secondary education provision. The secondary education program is based
on the Northern Territory Pathways curriculum program that includes Intensive
English, Foundation Studies and General Studies. If students want to continue
their education beyond Year 8 they must relocate. Most students who choose
education beyond Year 8 move to Darwin or Perth. The nearest secondary
school providing education up to Year 10 is Balgo High School. Balgo is
100 kilometres from Billiluna and it takes 1 hours to drive there over
a dirt roads. This road is inaccessible for 4 to 5 months of the year
due to the wet season.
"It can be difficult
to obtain staff. You can pay $1,000 for an advertisement in the Australian
and get 2 or 3 responses. I have one floating around now but I haven't
had any responses yet."
"The fact that the
staff has been here for at least two years has made a tremendous difference
to the learning of the children. The teachers have moved with the classes
and the same children. With the difficulty in staffing we have to look
for more people like Margaret [Aboriginal Teacher's Assistant] because
she is of this place. Hopefully she will stay here. In the Territory,
schools with community teachers have mentors in the school. We don't have
them here in Western Australia. Here the staff supports Margaret and it
relies on their generosity."
"At the beginning
of the year you hear that the children have regressed because the kids
have had 6 weeks of speaking no English. But we have found that when the
children have continuity of teaching staff they don't regress. It is as
if we finished yesterday. This is because the students are not shy with
a known teacher. They feel confident to pick up where they left off. This
has been demonstrated to have a big effect on learning here."
"In the first 6 to
12 months teachers are just finding their feet. You need to get past the
initial problems in order to develop strategies for the future and policies
for the future. I think that schools that don't have continuity of staff
must be chasing their tails all of the time."
"It is difficult
for staff who want to leave the Kimberley and go back to teach in the
cities. One teacher could only get part time work when she went back to
the city so she came back. There is a perception in the city that Kimberley
teachers are slack."
"In Melbourne I was
told that the teaching experience [in Aboriginal desert communities] would
"In WA I was given
3 years of leave from the Catholic Education Office [CEO] to go back to
the school that I left in the Perth. The positions are therefore like
"I have taught in
3 Kimberley schools and I have found the experience of moving between
schools very difficult. Often the positions are not advertised until late
in the term or in late November."
"I think I've learnt
more from being here in the Kimberley than I did in a city school. This
position has taught me about the ways in which children learn."
like Walking, Talking Texts is invaluable. This is a literacy program
developed in the Northern Territory. Programs that have been developed
in Perth have not worked in secondary education in the Kimberley. We are
following the Pathways program from the NT. This program incudes the Intensive
English, then Foundation Studies and then General Studies. We are up to
our second year of secondary education here. Our students have been working
on this program because it is sequential learning, it leads somewhere
and it is outcomes based. The continuity of this program is useful for
students who move around. We have 8 students who are enrolled in this
program with about 4 or 5 regular participants."
"The students are
16 years old when they go to the boarding schools because if they are
not 16 the parents have to subsidise the rent at the hostels to the tune
of a couple of thousand dollars a term. It would cost them more than they
would earn in a whole year. Abstudy will only pay once the children have
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."
"The children continue
their schooling in the capital cities because the town high schools don't
have a reputation for catering for Aboriginal students. The other problem
is accommodation. The children need the hostel accommodation. Halls Creek
used to have a hostel but it closed down a few years ago. There is a plan
to build a hostel in Kununurra. They propose a 40-bed hostel that would
bring the kids in for school for a week and then send them home on the
weekends. I don't think they've worked out how the kids will get to and
from school and home yet. The hostel will be for secondary students."
"A lot of students
would not go to the hostels in the past though because desert kids were
called dumb kids."
School goes from K to 10, in fact all of the schools go to Year 10, only
St Mary's in Broome goes to Years 11 and 12."
"Staff receive subsidised
rent. The houses belong to the CEO or the Bishop and the extent of the
subsidy depends on the type of house that you have and how remote you
are. In remote, all of the furnishings are provided you just have to provide
your own linen. In the towns they have to provide their own furnishings."
"We are lucky here
because our houses were built in the 1990s. We are limited though in the
types of accommodation because this will depend on whether you have married
couples or whether the staff get on with each other."
"Our teachers spend
all their time face to face with the children. There are no relief staff
so that when there is professional development or someone is sick we have
to shuffle the staff around to cover the classes."
"If a teacher is
local or if the person is within a community for more than 5 years then
they are considered local and they have to provide their own housing."
"Staff receive bonuses
after 3 years, they receive $3,000 extra and there are three incremental
levels after the first one. There is a cut off after 6 years. You keep
receiving it after the first 6 years though you use a lot of it in tax."
Teachers are under a different award so they do not receive the same entitlements
as the trained teachers. This means that they don't receive the same monetary
incentive. Billiluna has one of only 2 trained Community Teachers in the
Kimberley. There are 4 Aboriginal Community Teachers who are currently
Disability and learning
"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 aid."
"The services for
children with disabilities are very hit and miss and uncoordinated. There
is no continuity of service of specialist staff either. These staff do
not know what has gone on before. There are also long delays for service.
We have a child with a broken hearing aide and it has been broken for
ages. He has been without it for most of this year."
"The school nurse
will come once or twice a year to screen the children. The school nurse
is based in Halls Creek. She is based at the school there and she has
a big area to cover. She is new and has been out to the school once this
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."
"We should have received
a visit from an education psychologist, but she will not come now because
there has been a recent tragedy at Wubin and there have been a lot of
suicides so she must go to those places as a priority. This means that
the children here will not see the psychologist."
Children with hearing
"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
"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."
"Older children who
know they are on the list for the year operation sometimes run away because
they are scared. Others are waiting to get grommets and one had grommets
but they have both come out. The nurses can do some syringing of ears
and drying of ears, but otherwise the child goes on a waiting list to
see the specialist."
"We do the BBC program
at the school; Breathe, Blow and Cough. This is designed to improve the
hearing as well."
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."
"We don't provide
a breakfast program though we do have children who are failing to thrive.
We sell Weetbix at recess and some children hold onto them for lunch."
"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'."
"The children go
home for lunch at 1.00pm, that is the end of the school day. Most children
will not get any lunch after that."
"The children come
to school with terrible sores."
"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."
"The only Internet
server we have been able to find is Telstra BigPond Rural, which is $7.00
per hour. That is the only one which is charging the cost of a local call.
That is costing between $60 and $70 a fortnight. Staff and classes can
access the Internet. It is an important service because we only get mail
once a week. It takes two weeks to transact any business. Therefore the
E-mail service is essential for us."
"The other big issue
is technical support. We have a consultant from Broome though he has responsibilities
all over the Kimberley. We haven't seen him yet this year though we hope
to see him some time this term. When something goes wrong we fix it if
we can though this is very time consuming. Technology is a great learning
strategy for the children here because it combines visual learning and
repetition. I think that is one of the reasons why the children have taken
off this year."
"Our technology plan
talks about a shared technician between 3 schools in the area. This will
cost at least $60,000 including a house. There is a bucket of money. Every
school will get a base allowance determined by the student numbers and
the needs of the school. There is $155million for information technology
for Western Australian schools."
"Our lines are slow
but they do not drop out. There are no new lines available at this stage.
We are dependent on Telstra at this stage. Optus has offered us a deal
but when I asked about maintenance they told me that they sub contract
to Telstra. I can just imagine how Telstra would love to fix Optus phone
English as a second
"We would like a
full time ESL teacher for every school. We use literacy funds and even
these funds do not cover the cost of the position. We need the ESL teacher
to back up the staff with language learning. Someone must take the specific
responsibility of the language program."
Learning and development
"It has really taken
three years of consistent program development and continuity of staff
to see some real results in student learning. An ESL position allows this
to happen but it must be funded and it must be an educational priority.
We have had teachers from other schools who see the value of program development
We have Aboriginal
Studies and we teach Walmajari. We use the Walmajarri CD Rom. We tape
the children through the computer. We take the children on bush trips.
It is hard though to get the people [community members] to come down from
the camps to teach language. We have 2 community members who speak Walmajarri
and we are dependent on these language specialists."
"The first language
for the kids here is Kriol. Many students don't care to learn their [traditional]
first language. The community wants the kids to learn Walmajarri though
we speak Jaru here too. We speak Jaru to the kids but this is Walmajarri
country. We have the same problem with Kukatja. The parents speak in Kriol
to their kids."
"One of the joys
of working here is to see that Aboriginal people are taking the teaching
positions and that they will hopefully take over the teaching positions."
"We have 3 funded
Aboriginal teachers at this school. They [the Catholic Education Office]
give us 2 teaching assistants and we have full time clerical position.
We have 3 additional people working here; they are on Abstudy combined
with CDEP money. These people are studying and these are scholarships."
"We need a support
system to assist in the building of the community. We have had 20 storekeepers
and 15 administrators in four years. What is ATSIC's role in community
development? I don't think there has been strong leadership from them."
"When the children
are in the community then they generally come to school. We set up attendance
graphs and we put them up here and in the community. When we report to
parents we use the graphs to talk about attendance. Though the children
here make their decisions very early here. The children can decide whether
they want to come to school or not. Truant officers don't seem to work.
We also have a problem with children coming late. They like to watch TV
and videos in the morning. When they are late we mark them absent. We
have an attendance award at the end of the term and the children are very
interested in attendance at this time."
"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
"The people in the
office and in the store are often so busy that they can't provide training.
Sometimes we will start a training session like mechanics and they will
come for the first time and then they won't come for the rest of the week.
The only courses that they come for every session are music and sewing
because they come away with a product."
is beginning to take off. This training is coming through Broome. This
is onsite training [in Broome]. People will endure a week away but no
"Some of the men
will say that the training is not a success because there is a woman providing
"We have seen the
success of training for administrators and teachers. It is the one-off
training that does not work. If you want to train for mechanics then you
need a mechanic in the community who can provide ongoing training and
mentor within the community. This is real training."
updated 2 December 2001.