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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1672

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - I rise also to support the Immigration (Education) Bill 1973. Australia's migration program has gone on now for a large number of years. It has been an involved program of migrant integration of a most successful kind. I think it is common knowledge and accepted by most people that Australia has been one of the most successful countries in integrating large numbers of migrants into its community, preserving that which has been good in the cultures and backgrounds of the people who have come here, whilst at the same time integrating them with the peoples already established here. I was pleased to hear that the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh) at the end of his address gave some credit to the previous Government, although earlier in his remarks I was disappointed to hear him place such emphasis upon the criticisms that he made of the actions of the previous Government.

I do not believe - and history will bear me out - 'that 2 December was a watershed in the question of attitudes to integration of migrants into the Australian community. I hope that history will record that it is a continuous process of successful integration, the one program to resolve a particular problem uncovering other problem areas then to be resolved by new and imaginative programs.

In 1971 the previous Liberal-Country Party Government introduced the Immigration (Education) Act. That Act recognised the need for the Australian Government to support the governments of the States in filling gaps in their education programs insofar as those programs related to the education of migrant children. The previous Act, which is today the subject of the amendments we are debating, provided funds for the salaries of special teachers to give special instruction to migrant children. It provided funds for the purchase of approved capital equipment of the language laboratory type for use in the special classes to be established and funds for the provision of suitable teaching and learning material and for the costs of training courses for special teachers.

At the time the Opposition pointed out that a need for adequate accommodation would reveal itself. Events have proved it to be correct, and it is proper that the correctness of its assessment be acknowledged. That Government supporters have now moved quickly to perform what they said was then needed is deserving of praise. For this reason I, with other members of the Opposition, support the program inherent in the Bill before the House - a program to provide the schools that have large migrant student populations where special classes are conducted with adequate accommodation to enable them to fulfil their purpose.

The program provides for the funds to enable demountable buildings and classrooms to be built in the identified schools. I can understand the reason why this was decided upon. Demountable buildings are cheaper. They can be moved when the need for them ceases to exist. But I draw to the attention of the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) the fact that in many of the schools where these demountable buildings will be provided there is already a large number of demountable or temporary buildings. As is well known, many buildings that start off as temporary buildings become permanent buildings. One would hope that the provision of demountable buildings for this type of class is not yet further proof of the maxim that the most permanent building is the one that was built originally as a temporary one. I would hope that the Minister would ask his officers, through the Education Departments of the States, to look at this question. It would be a great pity if we found that in the years ahead when we look at the provision of this type of building we find ourselves faced with the same problem which we are tackling now in the replacement of so many temporary classrooms that today exist in too many of our schools. It may be that it would be better to work out a program in consultation with the States that enables them to place some permanent buildings in these schools, providing they make available the additional finance necessary to enable permanent structures to be built. This or other adequate accommodation already within the school could then be made available for these migrant education classes so that laundries, cellars and the like no longer need to be used.

Another aspect I would like to draw to the attention of the Minister is the fact that this program we are now debating will not be the be all and end all of migrant children's education. There are many schools with a very high proportion of migrant children. These children undoubtedly need special instruction by teachers who have had special training and who have available to them adequate teaching aids. They need to be broken up into classes of a size that enables the teacher to achieve the purpose for which this special education is provided.

As has already been pointed out in this debate, there are a number of methods used in teaching children English and integrating them into the general educational program of the schools. One method, of course, is the withdrawal method of taking the children away from the classes to a special English class, giving them special tuition and then returning them to their ordinary classes. As has already been pointed out by one of my colleagues, this has its problems because it withdraws the child from the standard classroom curriculum in which he or she would otherwise be involved. Other schools - and there is one in my own electorate - have made specially trained migrant teachers responsible for the whole education program of a class of migrant children. The school to which I refer is using both methods. I hope that given adequate lapse of time an assessment will be made of the relative advancement of the withdrawal of children into a migrant English class and their grouping together in one class where the whole normal education program is supplemented by the special English training.

This is possible in many schools where there is a migrant education problem because many of the schools where the problem exists have a very high proportion of migrant children. But as was pointed out by an earlier speaker on the Government side, so much of this problem has its origin in the homes. It was pointed out that educational deprivation often has its source in the home environment because of lack of motivation in the home environment. I think also that it comes about not because of a lack of motivation in the home environ ment but rather because of a lack of understanding there of the objectives of the education process. I draw to the attention of the Minister the urgent need to study this problem to ascertain the extent to which some of the difficulties confronted by migrant children in progressing through the education system derive not from the lack of motivation on the part of their parents but from the lack of understanding of the parents of what the schools are trying to achieve.

Many migrants themselves are illiterate. Many have had very little education. Yet in spite of these disabilities they have an instinctive appreciation of the importance of education for their children. Nevertheless, they very often suffer from the disability that they do not know what the education process is trying to achieve for their children. They experience difficulty in communicating with the school and the school with them. Whereas I commend the Minister for introducing this Bill which will provide better facilities within the schools to enable these children to be given a better head start to overcome the lack of ability to communicate because of language difficulties, I draw to his attention the rising need to make provision so that the schools can communicate with the parents of these children.

I have visited schools in my electorate since my election in December. A number of these schools have a high migrant student population, one having a migrant population as high as 80 per cent. Yet at very few of these schools are there teachers who themselves have come from the country of origin of the majority of children attending those schools. In some cases where there are teachers from the country of origin of the migrant children, although they have become integrated into the Australian way of life, they are somewhat reluctant and hesitant to use their background knowledge of the cultures of their country of origin to act as communicators between the school community and the parent community. Of course the problem is not resolved, if for example, a school with a large number of children of Italian origin has an Italian-born teacher because at that school there may be children from half a dozen different Italian communities whose cultural backgrounds are significantly different. I suggest to the Minister that in the near future he will find, if he has not already found, the need to provide schools with funds to enable them to engage liaison officers whose job would be to act as representatives, to go out into the community and into the Italian households to talk to the parents in their own language with a full knowledge of their own cultures in order to explain to the parents the objectives that the school is seeking to achieve in the education process being provided for their children. I have come across many migrant parents who, sensitive, concerned, yet nervous about communicating with the school, wish they had a better understanding of what the school is trying to achieve. I have also come across many teachers who also wish they had the opportunity of communicating in a more real fashion with the parents of these particular children.

I urge that efforts be made to build bridges of understanding across these cultural gaps. It is necessary to build the bridges from both banks. We must train the teachers so that they have an understanding of the cultural backgrounds of the children they are teaching. As I mentioned a few moments ago, not merely an understanding of the Italian culture or the Greek culture but an understanding of the Calabrisi culture, the culture of the Neapolitans, of the northern Italians and of the many villages and other communities within Italy - I use Italy as an illustration - with different cultural backgrounds which result in the people having differing attitudes and differing problems with respect to their understanding of the education process. I think, too, the teachers should be trained so that they can help the Australian children or the children from other countries to understand the cultures of children with whom they are mixing within the schools.

From the other bank of the cultural gap is a need for a liaison officer to go out into the community to help the parents of migrant children in their understanding of the education process. At this time, when so much is being done to give a degree of independence to school communities and so much is being done to involve the parents in school councils or welfare clubs, assistance needs to be given in those deprived schools where there is this cultural gap to enable the school council, welfare club or parent group to ensure that people do not stay away because of a nervousness or fear that they will expose their lack of appreciation and understanding of the education process. I would therefore urge upon the Minister that he give serious consideration to seeking Cabinet approval for the provision of funds so that liaison officers, specially trained in the cultural backgrounds of the children attending particular schools, can help to bridge this cultural gap.

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