IT’S a long way from the city streets of Adelaide to the red roads of the NPA but that didn’t stop Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne from making a historic visit to local schools last week.
The visit was the first time that any education minister, state or federal, has taken a first-hand look at the challenges and opportunities surrounding education in the five NPA communities.
“During a meeting with the NPARC in April 2013 it was worrying to hear some of the statistics regarding attendance and the number of students not making it to year 12, graduating or going to university,” Mr Entsch said.
“At the same time, I learned that this area had never received a visit from a State or Federal Education Minister.
“That’s when I made the promise that I would coordinate a visit. Ministers have to get their feet on the ground in communities like this to really comprehend the challenges they face, especially when you have five different communities with three indigenous identities, three school campuses and numerous language dialects.”
L-R Year 12 students Nicole Bond and Lavinia Williams discussing their reading project, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with Warren and Christopher Pyne at Bamaga Secondary School.
The Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council (NPARC) and the Northern Peninsula Area Ngurpai Ikama Ikya Education, Training and Employment Council hosted Mr Entsch, Minister Pyne and a senior representative for the Queensland Education Minister, John Paul Langbroek. The group firstly heard from local leaders, including Deputy Mayor Edward Newman, Education Council Chair Jeffrey Aniba and NPA College Principal Gordon Herbertson, and then visited the TAFE Campus, high school and Bamaga and Injinoo primary schools.
Cr Newman described it as “a historic day” while Cr Aniba emphasised the importance of people being educated “from cradle to career”.
“In 2008, we had kids graduating Year 12 at a Year 8 level. This is unacceptable in the ‘lucky country’,” he said. “As Chair, I cannot see another generation of children failed in achieving educational outcomes.” He ended by calling for a “robust, independent and balanced” review of education in the NPA.
Principal Herbertson told the group that key challenges included sustaining momentum, improving attendance, providing genuine employment opportunities in the NPA, staffing turnover and the high cost of building and maintaining school infrastructure.
Minister Pyne commended the work of the Education Council, which is working closely with the NPARC and schools to change attitudes towards education.
As a result, in recent years attendance has improved markedly, as has participation in Year 12 and the proportion of students graduating Year 12. NPA also had the best NAPLAN results of any indigenous community in Australia in 2013.
“I congratulate you because I get a real sense of organisation here,” Minister Pyne told the group. “I visit a lot of communities who don’t have a plan about how they are going to address issues, so it’s a very important building block that you have.”
Minister Pyne said he recognised that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to education did not work in all communities. “You cannot transplant a program from Brisbane to Bamaga and expect it to work,” he said.
He also recognised the “necessity” of engaging parents in their kids’ education, so that children get a better education than their parents, and their grandparents.
Christopher Pyne shows a book about Parliament to Year 1 students at Bamaga Primary School.
“It’s very encouraging that almost everything that I’ve heard today fits in very well with our ethos around educational achievement – our ‘four pillar’ focus on school autonomy, curriculum, teacher quality and parental engagement.”
Later that day, at a principals’ round table in Cairns, regional leaders discussed a range of issues including the possibility of making Abstudy available to students earlier, how to improve teacher training methods, the number of subjects in the national curriculum, and how to get better results from vocational education training in schools.