Indigenous education critical for northern development

Indigenous Australians should be the first port of call to meet the demand for labour in Northern Australia 

Warren Mundine, Executive Chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, has delivered a major speech in Cairns this week to the Future of Tropical Economies Conference, ahead of the G20 finance meeting. A copy of the speech is available here.

In his speech Mr Mundine talked about the Federal Government’s commitment to the development of Northern Australia and how to harness human capital to develop the north.

Mr Mundine emphasised the importance of Indigenous education and employment in any discussion of northern development.

He pointed out that by 2040 half of Northern Australia’s population will be Indigenous and Indigenous communities are younger and growing faster than the rest of Australia. He said Indigenous communities should be the first port of call to meet the demand for labour in Northern Australia which means getting Indigenous children educated and Indigenous adults into a job.

Focussing on education, Mr Mundine outlined a blueprint for delivering education in remote Indigenous communities:

  • Greater focus on 0-4 years and primary school.
  • Every Indigenous child should have access to a fully resourced primary school with full time teachers who live in the community.
  • In remote areas one primary school should service several neighbouring communities within, say, an hour’s drive with transport provided to collect and return children each day.
  • Focussed remedial intervention needs to be provided in remote primary schools with poor NAPLAN test results or poor attendance records. State and territory government departments should develop a plan for auditing current resources and capabilities, resourcing schools in these communities to teach all children in that community effectively and remedial education and working with children to enable them to catch up.
  • Remote Indigenous schools need a higher standard of teachers than regular schools. If Indigenous languages are still spoken at home teachers should also complete appropriate training in teaching English as a Second Language.
  • Teachers need to be engaged and part of the community: getting to know the locals, participating in community events and activities, making friends, going fishing, coaching the kids at sport on weekends and so on.
  • Secondary education cannot be delivered effectively on-site in small communities. All secondary students should be serviced by a regional secondary school that offers weekly boarding facilities with one secondary boarding school servicing communities within, say, a 2 to 3 hour drive and school transport provided to transport students home for the weekends.
  • Focussed remedial intervention – either remedial schooling or moving straight to job readiness and training (as for adults) – also needs to be provided for secondary students who have not had an effective primary education.
  • Remote schools – primary and secondary – should partner with high performing schools or universities in major Australia cities and explore the opportunities for improving learning. Eg Teacher exchanges or remote classrooms “Skyping in” to participate in lessons in partner schools.
  • Internet connectivity is the most effective infrastructure that can be delivered in remote communities for supplementing and enriching education.

Mr Mundine had a dual message for governments and the private sector. He said if the governments are serious about developing the north they must deliver a first class education to children in remote communities. And if the private sector wants to harness the opportunities in the north it needs to look at what it is doing to ensure it has access to an educated local talent pool in the future. Today’s children are tomorrow’s workforce.


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