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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8792


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (19:20): Every remote Indigenous community in South Australia is within the bounds of my electorate of Grey. In my time as a member I have taken a great interest in these com­munities and been very concerned by their general state and the lack of opportunity in them, particularly for the children. So, during the winter break, I took the opportunity to travel to the Cape York Peninsula. I have for many years read and listened with great interest to what Noel Pearson has to say about his efforts with his Cape York Institute, so I travelled there to see if the programs were transportable and applicable to my communities and whether there was anything I could learn and take back to them. I thank the Cape York Institute and all concerned for their assistance.

I had the opportunity to visit both Aurukun and Hope Vale. Aurukun was of particular interest to me because it, like many of my communities, is a place where English is a second language and therefore education and many of the things that we take for granted are less accessible then they are elsewhere. I met there with the opportunity hub. I looked at programs that help with financial management, at savings programs and at student support packs. I talked to health workers and met the mayor and councillors. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to speak with the Families Res­ponsibility Commissioner David Glasgow and three local Family Responsibilities Commissioners. I have a very short time available to me here, so I will not go into the work of the Family Responsibilities Com­mission except to say that it is part of the income management program up there. It is a very comprehensive package.

However, my highest interest was in the educational changes being introduced into Aurukun, Hope Vale and two other schools on Cape York Peninsula. I met with the principal, Patrick Mallet, and at Hope Vale I met with Cindy Hales, the district principal of the four Cape York academy schools. They are using an American program called Direct Instruction. I am sure it will not be welcomed by a lot of educators in Australia. It is a return in some ways to the old days.

I must tell you about my first experience in the classroom. I walked in unannounced and a group of children were sitting around a teacher. They were strongly engaged. A couple looked around at me and the teacher said, 'Don't you worry about that. They are of no interest to you. Your interest is here,' and the children turned back to the front immediately, as a few of us filed into the back of the classroom.

What I saw was both a revelation and a revolution, as I said in some ways turning the clock back. The teacher demanded their full attention. They were reading a book together and the teacher would say, 'My word, ready,' and she would pronounce the word. Then she would say, 'Your word, ready,' click her fingers and the students would say it together. We saw this repeated through a range of subjects. In Hope Vale the next day we saw similar approaches in mathematics.

Many would think this is over-instructive education but we are dealing with a particularly disadvantaged group here. The classroom had no distractions. You could not see outside the windows. The doors were shut. Attendance rates of the children have lifted from around 40 per cent to 70 per cent, but it is much better than that because previously the roll had been marked once a day and if a student had popped in at any time they were marked off the roll. The roll is now marked twice a day—in the morning and in the afternoon. If a student does not roll up, there are three case managers who go to the parents' house to inquire where the student is. If the children have three failures, they are then referred to the Families Responsibilities Commission.

Peripheral subjects have been gotten rid of. In fact, Patrick Mallet, the principal, said to me, 'I'll be very pleased when that shed over there, basically the workshops, is taken away because there is no time for peripheral subjects.' The aim is to teach children to be able to compete in any school in Australia after year 5. They have 25 hours a week of direct and heavy contact with the teacher. Lessons are highly structured. Morning lessons are all the business end of learning, with half an hour before lunch for cultural studies and another half hour later in the day. During cultural studies the children are taught in their own language. For the rest of the time they are taught in English. There are no excuses. Your problems of the home stop at the gate.

I could go on. I hope we see this education system taken into many more remote communities in Australia. I think it has a great future.