The power of independent schooling

Independent schools have a lot to be proud of and can use their voice and influence to deliver better outcomes for Indigenous Australians and for Australia as a whole.

Speech to the Association of Independent Schools NSW on 1 September 2016

By Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO

The land on which we’re situated is the land of the Gadigal people, one of more than a dozen clan groups occupying the lands and waters bordered by the Blue Mountains in the west, Broken Bay in the north and Botany Bay in the south. They were part of the Dharug nation. The Gadigal people were the first Indigenous people of Australia to have contact with the British colonisers. I pay my respects to Gadigal elders past and present as well as to the elders of the Bundjalung nation of which I’m a member and of the Yuin and Gumbaynggirr nations, my mother’s people.

I’m very pleased to be here at the 2016 AIS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Conference and I’d like to thank the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales for inviting me to address the opening of this important conference.

Independent schools are hugely important part of the Australian education landscape and indeed Australian society. They give parents choice on the kind of education they want their children to have, an option for parents to choose a school aligned with the family’s religious beliefs or cultural values or even the option to choose a different educational methodology or system.

In government schools many decisions are controlled by departments and public servants who never have direct contact with parents or students. Principals and teachers at independent schools have greater autonomy and decision making ability than in government schools. At independent schools, parents can have far greater involvement and say in their children’s education and the decisions and direction of the school.

If you look at the political debates going on around education at the moment, parental involvement and autonomy seems to be something the government system is moving further and further away from.

The Safe Schools controversy is a case in point. Critics of the program say it goes beyond its stated purpose of discouraging bullying and promotes a socio-political agenda. And a Federal government review of the program found some content isn’t age-appropriate for many students it’s targeted to. So the Federal government imposed conditions for state and territory governments to receive Federal funding of the program. One of those conditions was parents getting a say if schools can take part and students needing parental consent to participate. The ACT government last Friday announced it wouldn’t accept these conditions and would fund the program itself. It said the conditions make the program unworkable. The Victorian government has taken the same approach.

What we are seeing here is an example of an elitist attitude parents can’t be trusted to make the right decisions for their children, that education academics, public servants and governments know better.

A few years ago I found myself at the receiving end of this attitude when I said I didn’t agree Indigenous culture and perspectives should be included in all subjects across the school curriculum as part of the “cross-curriculum priorities”.

I believe when teaching an internationally recognised discipline – like science — students should be taught according to the universal norms of that discipline. It doesn’t make sense to me to speak of Indigenous science or Italian science or Chinese science. The mathematics that explains how a boomerang works is the same mathematics that explains how the bow and arrow works or how an aeroplane works. The engineering that explains the Brewarrina fish traps is the same engineering that explains the Great Wall of China and the Roman aqueducts.

Science doesn’t have an ethnicity. Sciences are modern disciplines, not cultural history subjects.

For these comments I received a barrage of attack and outrage from the Twitterati. NSW’s then Deputy Opposition Leader, Linda Burney – one of the architects of the current school curriculum – told The Australian I didn’t know what I was talking about. She said, “being a fitter and turner does not qualify you to speak on this, it qualifies you to talk on plumbing”. Her comments illustrate the mindset of education intellectuals who believe only they can speak on the education of children. In her view, people like me – a parent and an employer – should know their place and keep their mouths shut. Her comments also illustrate how little some of these intellectuals know about the real world. She can get a fitter and turner to do her plumbing if she wants. I’d use a plumber.

This wasn’t the first time I incurred the wrath of education elite.

Some years earlier I made a similar comment about this notion of “Aboriginal science”. The next day a delegation from the NSW Teachers Federation arrived at my office wanting to meet with me. They told me I needed to correct my views.

Now I’m a person who doesn’t get fazed by criticism, even abuse. I’m a regular target of attack on social media by people who literally cannot believe I’ve said one thing or another. Frankly I couldn’t care less. I don’t change my views or shut up just because someone on Twitter, or Linda Burney or the NSW Teachers Federation told me to.

A few years ago I started using the term disruptive thinking to describe my approach to public debate and discussion. I borrowed this expression from the term “disruptive innovation”, first conceived by Harvard Business School Professor, Clayton Christensen. He described how new technologies and inventions can take hold in established industries, threatening the status quo and displacing dominant players. Too often conventional wisdom falls into a trap of putting opinion – how people wish it to be – ahead of facts – how it is.

This happens a lot in Indigenous affairs policy. It’s something I have made a career of challenging.

People must be able to speak freely on issues of importance, even if their opinions aren’t popular; to have curious and inquiring minds and to debate and discuss. It’s very damaging if people are too scared or hesitant to challenge what they know isn’t working or say what they know is true. We have various names for this mentality – the Emperor’s New Clothes, the elephant in the room, the sacred cow.

Sacred cows in education include that education needs greater funding to achieve outcomes; that smaller class sizes deliver better education outcomes; that whole reading is better than phonics. There’s also a growing trend for schools to encompass, not just teaching of educational subjects, but also instructing children on social values.

Australia has big educational challenges. And too few people in the education intellectual elite will acknowledge them. In my opinion this is because acknowledging these challenges might mean questioning their long held opinions.

One of these challenges is that Australia is falling behind the rest of the world in education outcomes. Figures published by the OECD show Australian high school student performance in maths and reading has declined over the past 10 years. In the most recent published assessment Australia’s rankings fell in all subjects since 2009 from 15th to 19th in mathematics, from 10th to 16th in science and from 9th to 14th in reading. And 20 per cent of Australian students were unable to demonstrate basic skills. Large gaps continue to exist based on wealth, location, gender and whether students are Indigenous.

Yet government spending on education in Australia has substantially increased in the past few decades. There have been reforms in curriculum and teaching methodology based on the new educational theories, including phasing out rote learning and replacing phonics with whole reading. Governments have brought in smaller class sizes.

Despite all of this, Australia’s performance against global educational benchmarks is falling. Any person with common sense would at least question whether these initiatives are working.

Another challenge is that governments simply don’t have the money to continue to fund free education to the standard Australian society expects. This is true for all levels of education, including tertiary. Costs are going up and taxes can’t keep pace. We have an aging population and the numbers of people entering the workforce to pay taxes aren’t keeping up with the numbers leaving it. Increasing life expectancy means people spending more and more time in retirement with ballooning aged care and disability costs for government to cover.

So far no government has tackled these demographic challenges. Until they do there’ll be less and less taxpayer money to provide education funding. If we want to maintain – let alone improve – education standards, educators will need to figure out how to do more with less.

These are huge challenges. So it baffles me that the biggest debate in education in the past 12 months has been whether teachers should lead children in transgender role playing.

I appreciate it can be hard for people in a profession to question the status quo or to critique conventional wisdom. That makes organisations like the Association of Independent Schools all the more important.

The AIS represents a significant and influential part of Australia’s education community. It can offer a platform from which debate and discussion can be fostered. And it can provide some shelter and support to diversity of opinion.

Independent schools have the advantage of not having to toe the party line of government departments or unions. There are many issues where independent schools can have a strong voice and they shouldn’t be afraid or apologetic in exercising it. Independent schools have the ability to do things differently. And with that ability they can be forward thinking and forge a trail for others to follow.

Organisations like the AIS – that are both influential and independent – are therefore uniquely placed to provide the innovative, and even disruptive, thinking needed to solve the challenges facing Australia’s education system.

Many Indigenous Australian have benefited from independent schools being willing to do their own thing.

When I was born until 1969, all Aboriginal people in New South Wales were regulated under the Aborigines Protection Act. Similar legislation existed in other Australian states and territories. The Act controlled Aboriginal people’s lives and enforced segregation. It regulated our movement, banned us from having a drink in a pub or from gathering in groups in public.

Under this law, Aboriginal children weren’t allowed to attend government schools except in limited cases where one of their parents got an exemption from the Act. For most Aboriginal children the only schooling options were on missions or reserves. But non-government schools could enrol anyone they wanted to. My parents had 11 children. They were Catholic and sent us to Catholic schools. There my siblings and I were educated side by side with students from all sorts of backgrounds.

I was born in Grafton and later moved to Auburn in Sydney. In Grafton, my older sisters went to St Mary’s College in senior school. But Grafton didn’t have a Catholic senior school for boys. Catholic boys went to boarding school or to school in Lismore and some went to the local high school. My mother wanted her sons to go to a Catholic senior school too. So she convinced the priest to make St Mary’s school co-ed so her boys could attend. My mother was very determined and was not going to take “No” for an answer.

This story illustrates what makes non-government schools so unique. My mother – an Aboriginal woman and a parent – was able to influence a school to change its enrolment policy. And the priest who ran that school had the authority to make that change. There was no need to consult or get permission from bureaucrats in Sydney.

Australia today is a very different place. Aboriginal children are no longer segregated out of government schools. But still today the independent school community is leading the way in Aboriginal education.

Two of my sons went to St Joseph’s in Hunters Hill. They began boarding there in senior school when we lived in Dubbo and continued to board there after we moved back to Sydney.

St Joseph’s pioneered the model of offering boarding scholarships to Indigenous students. Andrew Penfold, a Joeys old boy, heard his former school had started offering scholarships to Indigenous students. He contacted the school and became involved. He spent five years working full time, pro-bono, to establish the $7 million St Joseph’s College Indigenous Fund, which currently helps to support up to 40 Indigenous boys in perpetuity at the school. With his wife Michelle, Andrew went on to found the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation which took the Joeys model and expanded it to schools all over Australia. Through funds raised from the corporate sector and matched by government, AIEF offers Indigenous students the opportunity to get a first class education and a great start in life.

Today, AIEF has 500 students at 35 Partner Schools and Colleges as well as universities across Australian. I’m very proud to be the Chairman of AIEF. AIEF is proudly independent and very efficient with its funds, far more efficient than government-controlled programs offering boarding scholarships. Efficiency means more funds available to pay for education and more students able to go through the program. AIEF’s objective is to educate a total of 7,000 Indigenous students and support their transition from school to the next stage of their education or working lives.

Apart from the benefits to the students who receive scholarships, the AIEF program is also building connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I saw this myself as a parent at St Josephs College.

As often happens in boarding schools, full boarders would go home on weekends and stay with their friends who are weekly boarders. So Joeys parents got to know these Indigenous students personally. The Joeys parents became the greatest champions and advocates for the program. Some organised family holidays to visit the places where the Indigenous students came from. The program built connections and a community between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that lasted long after the boys left school.

Likewise, the families of the Indigenous students became part of the school community and would come down to Sydney for sporting and other school events. When the students went back home during holidays their communities saw them coming along in leaps and bounds and they saw the benefits of education. This encouraged other Indigenous families from those communities to look at opportunities for better education for their own children.

AIEF has seen the same things happening with its students and at its Partner Schools.

It’s not uncommon to hear sniping about Indigenous boarding scholarships. Typically, these criticisms come from the same socio-political mindset that likes to snipe at private schools generally. Sometimes you even hear Indigenous students going to boarding school being compared to the Stolen Generation. This is a ridiculous and false comparison.

AIEF and the St Josephs College Indigenous Fund offer scholarships to students who choose to attend boarding school. The decision to go away to school is no different than for non-Indigenous students – it’s a decision for the parents and the student. It’s in fact an exercise in self-determination. The scholarships simply give a choice to Indigenous families they wouldn’t otherwise have. Boarding school is a very old solution to the hurdles to remote education. Australian farming families have been doing it for over a century.

There’s no comparison between this situation and the forced or coerced removal of Indigenous children from their parents, often under intentional government policies of assimilation, that we know of as the Stolen Generation.

If it was up to most of the education academics and bureaucrats, programs like AIEF wouldn’t exist. Nor would they exist if it wasn’t for independent schools like Joeys and the AIEF Partner Schools.

This is another example of independent schools leading the way and making a difference.

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I want to spend a bit of time now talking about some of the challenges in Indigenous education.

The problems and disadvantage facing so many Indigenous Australians can seem so large and so complex it’s like an impossible puzzle. But really, most of the problems would be solved if two things happened:

  • Every Indigenous child went to school and got educated.
  • Every Indigenous adult worked in a real job.

All the other problems – including in health, housing, crime rates and incarceration, alcohol and substance abuse and poverty – would be well on their way to being solved if there was full education and full employment of Indigenous people. So, as educators, everyone here is working in an area that holds the key to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Not just the gap in education but also the gap across the board.

The biggest hurdle to Indigenous education is that too many Indigenous kids don’t go to school. This is a particularly difficult problem in remote and regional areas.

Australia has had compulsory education since the late 1800s. It’s the law that children attend school between 5 and 17 years of age. Yet there are still communities where schooling resembles the education system of centuries ago – voluntary, piecemeal and ineffective – and where a substantial portion of the community can’t read or write.

It’s not just Indigenous communities where we see this problem. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported half of all Tasmanians aged between 15 and 74 are functionally illiterate and more than half are functionally innumerate. What my friends in rural Tasmania have told me of their local primary school – with high truancy and children unable to read or write – sounds very similar to the problems I’ve seen in remote Indigenous communities.

This week’s Australian newspaper carried a feature article on the challenges of education in Tasmania and some new initiatives being put in place to tackle them. I highly recommend you look it up and read it. It quotes from 2013 Griffith Review article by former University professor Jonathan West who wrote:

“Tasmania ranks at the bottom among Australian states on virtually every dimension of economic, social and cultural performance: highest unemployment, lowest incomes, languishing investment, lowest home prices, least educated, lowest literacy, most chronic disease, poorest longevity, most likely to smoke, greatest obesity, highest petty crime, worst domestic violence.

It seems not to matter which measure is chosen, Tasmania will likely to finish last.

The underlying problem is simple but intractable: Tasmania has developed a way of life, a mode of doing things, a demographic, a culture and associated economy, that reproduces underachievement, generation after generation.”

You could replace the word “Tasmania” with “Indigenous Australians” and it would be equally accurate.

If you looked at other urban and regional communities in Australia that have high levels of inter-generational welfare dependence and poor socio-economic status I’ve no doubt you’d see some similarly disturbing statistics. Education and inadequate schooling are not a function of race or ethnicity or culture. They go hand in hand with low socio-economic status and poverty. And poverty goes hand in hand with intergenerational welfare dependence and lack of participation in the real economy. Education is essential to economic development. And that starts with kids going to school every day.

Children must attend school and parents must send them. If parents don’t then governments must ensure children attend. It’s been the law for nearly 150 years. Truancy isn’t a stubborn problem because we don’t know how to address it. Compulsory education took effort before it became the norm. Truancy is a stubborn problem when governments lack courage and determination. Courage to do what’s necessary in the face of criticism and political opportunism. Determination to stay the course as long as it takes.

When the Coalition government was elected in 2013 it introduced an intensive program to get Indigenous kids to school in remote areas starting at the beginning of 2014. Truancy officers were despatched to communities with the worst school attendance rates and they work with attendance officers employed from the local community. Mentors were engaged to help kids who refuse to go to school. They work with students one on one. Help is given to parents

Northern Territory teachers went on strike at the beginning of that school year. One of the reasons for the strike was because the new truancy officers were bringing more students into remote schools and this was putting teachers under pressure. On the day of the strike around 24 remote areas schools closed but most Darwin schools remained open. This action punished Aboriginal children and communities and it undermined the important work being done to improve school attendance.

It made me very angry.

It’s incredibly damaging if educators aren’t 100% behind the push to get Indigenous kids to school. No one in this room should ever apologise or feel defensive about advocating for Indigenous kids to go to school. No matter where the kids come from, whether from traditional communities or urban communities.

To me it’s very simple. Every child must attend school every day. No negotiation. No excuses. If we can’t get that right, we may as well give up on everything else. Anyone who doesn’t believe Indigenous children should go to school every day doesn’t really want to close the gap in Indigenous education. It’s that simple.

A problem that goes hand in hand with Indigenous truancy is a lack of quality schooling. Many schools in remote and regional areas aren’t properly resourced. In fact, if all the children who should be attending school actually turned up, most of those schools wouldn’t have enough furniture, equipment or teachers to accommodate all the students.

There are primary aged children living in remote Australia today who don’t have access to a fully staffed primary school. Some communities have Homeland Learning Centres – where unqualified “teaching assistants” are employed from the community to operate the school day to day and qualified teachers visit periodically. You may as well have no school at all.

State and territory governments and education departments need to fix these problems. I’ve written and spoken extensively about how they can do this. You can look up my speeches and articles on my website.

This situation leads to a “chicken and egg” scenario. The schools are no good so people say there’s no point kids attending. But unless all kids go to school every day governments and departments can continue to avoid addressing these resourcing problems.

The best way for Indigenous people to expose these problems and force governments and departments to provide quality education and deliver real educational outcomes for Indigenous children is to send their kids to school every day.

I use the example of the Goulburn Schools Strike in 1962 to illustrate this. I regard it as one of the most successful protest actions in Australian history. And it’s another example where non-government schools proved their influence.

In the 1960s the Catholic Church offered non-government education to all Catholic children. The costs were borne by the Church, by parents paying fees and from fundraising like fetes and raffles. Most Catholic families were poor and the fees were kept low. Schools could run on minimal costs, largely because they not have to pay teacher salaries to nuns, priests and brothers. These were the kinds of schools I attended.

Back then, Catholic schools received no government funding – or state aid as it was called. Catholic schools had begun to lobby governments to provide some funding to help with rising costs. However, all political parties believed providing direct state aid to non-government schools would cost them votes and be politically damaging.

Finally, a dispute between the NSW Department of Education and Goulburn’s Our Lady of Mercy Primary School broke this impasse. The Department threatened to deregister the school because it didn’t have enough boys’ toilets. However, the Church couldn’t afford to build extra toilets. Eventually the Bishop informed parents the school would have to close until it could afford the new infrastructure.

The general meeting of parents and friends decided to go further. It resolved to close all of Goulburn Catholic schools for the final 6 weeks of term. The 1300 or so students from those schools would instead start going to the local government schools. If the Church didn’t educate those students the government would have to. So one Monday morning Goulburn’s public schools were flooded with students they weren’t resourced or equipped to accommodate.

It took only a week for the Catholic parents to make their point. If the government had to educate all the kids attending Catholic schools it would have to supply government schools with more teachers, resources and buildings (and more toilets). That would cost a lot more than providing some state aid to Catholic schools.

Previously Catholic families were invisible to the public education system, their impact ignored. After that week they ceased to be invisible. These parents changed Australia’s policy on education funding. Both major parties went on to support state aid to non-government schools and still do. What years of negotiation and discussion had failed to achieve was delivered with a very simple and lawful action – parents sent their kids to school.

If Indigenous kids don’t go to school, governments and departments can get away without addressing the lack of resourcing or and the fact there aren’t enough chairs or desks for all the children the school is supposed to service, let alone enough teachers. If only a fraction of children are turning up to school, it’s hard to argue the school is under-resourced. Just imagine the impact of tens of thousands of Indigenous kids currently absent from school actually showing up. This couldn’t be ignored.

At the root of the debate on Indigenous school attendance is a limiting belief about Indigenous people – a deep prejudice in fact. It’s part of what I call the intellectual trap – that Indigenous people are somehow different from everyone else and so different standards and expectations apply. It’s the view held by some educators that conventional schooling isn’t consistent with Indigenous cultures.

In 2014, when speaking about the push to deal with school truancy, the Northern Territory Secretary of the Australian Education Union told ABC radio the attempts to get kids to school don’t address the “major issue”. He said:

“the major issue is the relevance of our school system, our education system to traditional Indigenous people and also the commitment by traditional communities to acquiring that education.” 

We hear this kind of thing too often from people who should know better – that traditional Indigenous people and the modern mainstream education system aren’t suited to each other and traditional Indigenous communities aren’t interested in their children being educated in school.

This is nonsense.

The universal public education of children is one of the greatest social developments in history. All over the world – in every continent and in both modern and traditional cultures – kids go to school. The UN and international aid agencies have schooling as a major priority for developing nations.

I don’t accept Indigenous Australian are the only group of humans on the planet who aren’t able to be educated and attend school. I don’t accept there’s something inherently different about Indigenous Australians – that afflicts no other group of people in the world – that makes Indigenous schooling a futile exercise. You shouldn’t accept that view either.

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I want to finish up talking about the subject I began with – the role of Indigenous culture and knowledge in school curriculum.

At the beginning of this speech I said I don’t believe in this idea of an “Aboriginal science”. That’s not to say I don’t think Aboriginal people did anything clever or scientific. Indigenous societies demonstrate ingenuity, imagination and skill, as needed for the time and place those societies existed in. And these did reflect a form of scientific thinking, of figuring out how the natural world worked and building on that knowledge to achieve practical results. Essentially these were early forms of technology and innovation.

However, they don’t represent modern scientific theory. And frankly nor do many scientific ideas and inventions from Europe or Asia or anywhere else from hundreds of years ago. We don’t teach them in science either, unless students are studying the history of science.

I understand the sentiment behind wanting to including Indigenous perspectives across the curriculum. I was educated at a time when Australian children weren’t taught much about Indigenous cultures or societies in school. The message was that Indigenous people knew nothing of value and achieved nothing of substance, except wandering around the bush and telling children’s stories. This was demeaning and wrong. Extensive research on Indigenous societies, languages and cultures has demonstrated this.

But augmenting modern scientific curriculum isn’t the way to remedy these oversights. And some examples in the syllabus of how Indigenous culture is to be integrated across the curriculum are frankly insulting. As if the depth and breadth of Indigenous culture, history and society can be taught through tokenistic illustrations in arithmetic.

Australia’s First Nations are the oldest continuing cultures in the world. They are the ancient history of this continent and those cultures are also alive today. This is an incredible thing when you think about it. It’s something all Australians should be able to celebrate, be proud of and learn about.

Indigenous cultures and the ancient history of Australia’s First Nations should be taught in Australian schools – not as token add-ons to unrelated subjects but as part of thorough and rigorous stand-alone courses. And these subjects of study should be taught by qualified educators with the appropriate expertise.

Inviting a local Aboriginal elder to talk to students isn’t the right way to teach about Indigenous cultures. We can’t expect that person to have the depth of knowledge and expertise needed to teach a course of study; any more than you might expect to pluck some retiree out of the community and expect them to teach Australian history.

In my view some areas of study of Indigenous culture and ancient history should be compulsory for all children. They are knowledge all Australian students should know. The study of Indigenous kinship systems is one such area. Kinship systems are the most fundamental aspect of any learning about traditional Indigenous cultures. They are unique to this continent. All Australian children can and should learn about them, preferably in primary school.

Australian history should include a study of the full history of this continent. This includes a proper study of the history of Indigenous societies before 1788 and traditional Indigenous nations through to the history of our modern nation.

It also includes the contribution and achievements of European settlers and immigrants through the years, our participation as a nation internationally such as in war. The conflict between Indigenous and European people in Australia is a significant part of our history and should be taught. History shouldn’t be sanitised to make people feel better or to make them feel worse. Teach the facts and the ambiguities and let people have a proper discussion.

I also believe there’s a place for Indigenous languages in modern Australian education. For one thing, there are Indigenous children in Australia whose traditional language is their first language and they cannot speak much (if any) English when they start school. English may actually be their third of fourth language. We know these Indigenous children will do better at school if they learn using both their traditional language and English. It’s also important for self-esteem and identity. This isn’t a new challenge in our education system – there have been children in Australia who start school with English as a second language for many years.

Then there are Indigenous languages that aren’t widely spoken any more. I believe these should be offered as subjects of study too. I’m not suggesting every school should have to offer several hundred different language courses. That would be impractical. But it would be quite possible for schools to leverage off the Indigenous language learning centres and language “nests” that exist across Australia with students who want to study an Indigenous language being able to enrol in a course run by a centre in their area.

The history, cultures and languages of Indigenous societies are unique to Australia. They represent Australia’s ancient history. And therefore I believe all Australian children should know about them. We should build in Australian children a strong sense of identity and pride as Australians based around this continent’s shared and distinctive heritage.

This isn’t how the current curriculum is structured. Rather than teaching Australian students about areas of Indigenous history and culture in depth, Indigenous perspectives are spread in a tokenistic – and sometimes irrelevant and questionable – ways across the entire curriculum.

This is an area where independent schools could show the way and do things differently. Let me give you some examples of what independent schools could do.

  • Independent schools could work with Australian anthropologists and historians, and with an organisation like the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies – AIATSIS – to develop a subject of study on Indigenous kinship systems for all students in independent schools to study.
  • Independent schools could form partnerships with Indigenous language nests in their area and give their students an opportunity to learn about an Indigenous language.
  • An independent school, again working with an organisation like AIATSIS, could develop short courses of study of the culture and history of the Indigenous First Nation in which the school is located.
  • Independent schools could look at whether they can meet the “cross curriculum priorities” syllabus requirements by offering a single subject of study into Indigenous cultures, knowledge, languages and history that teaches its subject in depth, instead of peppering Indigenous perspectives across multiple subjects.
  • Independent schools could pioneer the development and teaching of a separate field of study of life in Australia before European colonisation drawing from the research of archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and historians.

Through initiatives like this independent schools could lead the way on how we teach students about Indigenous cultures and Australia’s ancient history. Just as they have done so in educating Indigenous students.

I encourage all of you to continue to uphold the important place that independent schools have in Australia – in educating children and in shaping Australian society.

Independent schools have a lot to be proud of. Independent schools have a powerful voice and great influence. I encourage you all to use that to deliver better outcomes for students, for Australia’s education performance, for Indigenous Australians and for Australia as a whole.

Thank you for listening. I am happy to take questions.

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