and Remote Education - WA
Kununurra community meeting,
17 May 1999 - notes
Four Kununurra community
members (one from a Kununurra Youth Service) attended this meeting.
The Youth Service
caters for children aged 10-20 years, although the core group are aged
10-14 years. Between 90-95% of are Aboriginal, although a few non-Aboriginal
children also come to the Youth Service for special programs, for example
a dance program or Youth Arts festival. Between 20 and 50 young people
use the Service every afternoon.
Many of the younger
boys who attend the Service (9 to 12 years old) are not attending school
regularly. "We have estimated in the last couple of years that there are
probably 100 kids of that age group who do not attend school."
The transition from
primary to secondary school is the critical time, especially for students
who attend St Joseph's primary. The Youth Service is trying to keep track
of children in the outer communities whoa re not attending school.
The Youth Service
runs self-esteem programs and the youth workers remind children to go
to school. However, the Service cannot provide education for truants,
and cannot operate services in school hours. To ensure school attendance
St Joseph's runs a program to take children to school from the communities.
The high school also once ran this program.
One parent said it
was difficult for the school to chase up truants in some cases because
there was no support at the children's homes. Another said that there
is a different attitude among Aboriginal people to being 'told off' by
the authorities and there needs to be some understanding of this to address
the issue effectively.
Students who do not
attend school regularly can be a distraction for students who want to
be at school. The education of other children can suffer.
The Barramundi School
for 13-15 year olds is one solution for children who do not fit into regular
school. But the school needs to have more places available. "Those kids
need that type of school to build up their own self-esteem. Also they
don't fit into mainstream schooling, which disrupts other kids, and makes
the kids have even worse self-esteem. Support for that type of school
is very important."
Help is also needed
within mainstream schooling for these types of students in addition to
providing alternative education.
"One of the big problems
I think is the lack of cross-cultural understanding, from teacher to student
and also from student to teacher. There needs to be a lot more cross-cultural
training with staff and with kids at schools. The racist issue is a big
issue in Kununurra. The Aboriginal kids feel isolated or they hang in
little groups by themselves."
The Youth Service
is working on a reconciliation group aimed at bringing young people together.
They hope to develop more self-confidence and communication skills.
There should be more
Aboriginal Integration Education Workers (AIEWs) at the state school.
The conditions for AIEWs also should be regularised. There is no formula
funding for them at this stage. In the Catholic system they have systematised
the employment of AIEWs, with regular pay scales, whereas in the Department
of Education (EDWA) schools the AIEWs are all employed under different
conditions. Because many of them are casual workers they do not get housing
assistance or holiday pay.
Small schools and
"Obviously a class
of 30 students doesn't work. I had a stint of teaching at Wyndham a couple
of years ago and I think I had a class of twenty seven 11 and 12 year
olds. But the literacy age range was between Year 3 to Year 7, and so
the age group structure I don't think works well at all."
The new curriculum
centres on students learning at their own pace. Parents raised concerns
about this because they worry that a teacher cannot deal with many students
at different levels in one class.
"I think the individual
child emphasis is important, but it's difficult in a large class to work
with different groups of kids. It needs to be recognised by the State
government that class sizes in the metropolitan areas are not necessarily
applicable in remote areas where there are different requirements."
Employment and literacy
Literacy and numeracy
is a critical issue. "Clearly something is not working if there is a whole
lot of kids of 16 or 17 years old with no literacy or numeracy skills."
The Youth Service
recognises that the problem is no longer about trying to get people educated
to fill all jobs but about finding jobs that do not require a high level
of literacy and numeracy. It is important to focus on finding a place
in society for a young person. For example, a young person might work
as a landscape worker for a while and develop the literacy and numeracy
needed on the job, with ongoing support.
DETYA provides extra
support for literacy and numeracy through schools and employment programs.
TAFE also runs literacy programs.
The Youth Service
has also organised some extra classes for some young people to give them
help with literacy.
"They don't want
to be CDEP workers for the rest of their lives. They actually do want
a job. It's about broadening horizons for young people. If that means
we have to work harder for a little while to give them a chance to be
equal, I think that just has to happen."
Leaving town for
Quite a number of
both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children leave Kununurra to attend
school elsewhere. Whereas one group of Aboriginal children are funded
to go away to Darwin to St John's, another group of more middle class
Aboriginal kids might be sent to Perth boarding schools.
Many parents are
being forced to decide whether to send their child away for high school
years, or leave town altogether.
"We'll be looking
at leaving in the next couple of years simply because we have a 10 year
old child and we don't believe the high school has what it takes. Some
kids might do well, but those particular students would do well anywhere."
There are not enough
subjects on offer for tertiary entrance examination level students. This
is enough for parents to send their children away to study.
One parent sent two
of her children to boarding school in Perth in Years 9 and 10. She found
it very difficult to send them away, and the children also hated it at
first, although they said it was a great experience to be able to access
the city and to meet other students.
"Being away from
home is very difficult at that age. Because that's when they need to have
their family around. They can be easily led one way or another."
More children seem
to be sent away earlier than before, in Year 8 or 9.
"It's a Catch 22.
They'd stay if there were more facilities."
The problem is not
only lack of educational facilities, but also activities for young people.
Sport, for example, suffers if there are inadequate numbers, as it is
impossible to play team sport.
At TAFE the population
problem also dictates choice. There are not enough people in the population
to offer the courses, although if the courses were offered in the first
place there may be enough people taking them up.
and secondary school
One parent felt that
although there were some advantages to Kununurra primary and high school
sharing resources, it was undesirable that the primary students are exposed
to the bad behaviour and language of the older students. She was especially
concerned about the discipline in the school. This would be solved if
a plan to move the primary school to Lakeside is implemented.
Some children are
fine with Distance Education subjects, but this does not suit everyone.
Parents felt that the recent cuts to travel assistance to Perth for isolated
students were unfair, especially when parents who send their children
away to boarding school receive financial support.
It would be much
easier to go to Darwin than to Perth for various services, for example
special education advice. It may even be cheaper to access professionals
from Darwin than Perth.
"Darwin would be
better culturally for us, especially Aboriginal children."
If children were
sent to Darwin for boarding school instead of Perth, parents could visit
them on birthdays and perhaps afford to bring the children home every
now and then.
Students with special
One parent said it
had been difficult to get a diagnosis for her child with dyslexia. Several
parents have had to travel to Darwin or Perth to have their child assessed.
Dyslexia is not classified as a disability. It is not a visual disability.
It is therefore seen as a 'difficulty' not a disability.
The school had not
been supportive of her requests for help. "The first comment they give
you every time is that it's the mother that's got the problem not the
child or school. But if you've seen your other children through school,
you get to know when something is not quite right."
There is a school
psychologist at the school but she covers a wide area in the East Kimberley
and it is difficult to get an appointment. As a result, diagnosis can
take a long time. Eventually one parent took her child to Perth for assessment
by a specialist, who immediately diagnosed the child as dyslexic. Once
the child is diagnosed, however, the problem of ongoing assistance remains.
"Down there in Perth
at least you've got access to people, but I still can't get any help here."
specialists offered to hold a workshop in Kununurra, this offer was not
taken up by the school as they thought they could handle the problem themselves.
"There are lots of
lovely things about living in Kununurra. But why should we suffer a chance
at education, because we chose to live here. Why should we have to send
our children away?"
There is also a lack
of professional counsellors in town.
It was agreed that
it was a good idea to send people away to train in counselling or special
education, as long as they come back to train others. There are many good
workshops but they do not take place in Kununurra. There is a need for
Most juvenile offenders
get sent down to Perth detention centres, which has been a bad experience
for them. Some offenders have been involved in programs out in the bush,
and this seems to be more successful. The literacy and numeracy levels
of juvenile offenders is generally very low.
For several years
there have been very few, if any, young offenders sent away to Perth,
but recently this has increased (about 6 in the last few months). This
is also very expensive. "Economically it would make more sense to have
a facility out here."
There is a place
out at Dingo Springs where some juvenile offenders have been sent. They
can spend time with the elders and their own community. One young person
who had been taking drugs and offending has stopped using drugs since
he was sent out there.
"Our budget is more
interested in building prisons than crime prevention . we have to look
at ways for kids to have something to do.
updated 2 December 2001.