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Rural and Remote Education - WA


and Remote Education - WA

Billiluna school meeting,

14 May 1999 - notes

Kururrungku Catholic

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

be invaluable."

"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

a secondment."

"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."

"Using curriculum

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

turned 16."


"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."

"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."

"Balgo Secondary

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 entitlements

"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."

Aboriginal Community

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


"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."

Specialist staff

"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."

Information technology

"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

in ESL."

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."

"Health education

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

the training."

"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.