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Rural and Remote Education - WA


and Remote Education - WA

Kununurra community meeting,

17 May 1999 - notes

Four Kununurra community

members (one from a Kununurra Youth Service) attended this meeting.

School truancy

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.

Cross-cultural understanding

"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.

Aboriginal support


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

composite classes

"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.

Combined primary

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.

Distance education

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.

Border issues

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."

Although dyslexia

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

skilled professionals.

Juvenile justice

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.