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Remote school makes progress with Indigenous literacy and numeracy

The principal of one of Western Australia’s remotest schools says making the basics of education relevant to local Aboriginal students is allowing them to make significant progress.

Servicing some of the most isolated communities in the state, Ngaanyatjarra Lands School Warburton Campus principal Sandy Robertson said the area remained a unique place to teach.

“It’s ever-changing, but at the same time it holds some really long-standing culture in the area we work with, for our students and their families,” Ms Robertson said.

“It’s a very interesting place to work.”

And with local community leaders pointing to education as the key factor behind the economic and social development of remote communities, the school staff are also keenly aware of the importance of their work.

Challenges require creative approach from teachers

Situated in the remote WA Goldfields, about 950km north-east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, the Ngaanyatjarra Lands School consists of nine campuses across the Lands communities, educating about 320 students.

The campuses range in size from tiny community schools through to Warburton, which houses six classes and about 100 students.

The school has cropped up regularly in analysis of school attendance in WA, with a 2014 report by Auditor-General Colin Murphy indentifying 61 per cent of students at severe attendance risk, the highest level in the Goldfields Education Region.

For the majority of students, English is a second language, with most children growing up speaking a local Aboriginal dialect or limited English.

On the ground, it means pursuing creative solutions to keep the kids engaged.

“We have to try and make the learning content as relevant as possible, to link it to what they know and build on that,” Ms Robertson said.

“We also have a common focus or topic for each term.”

Outer space, for instance, was picked as a core topic for one term last year.

Teachers worked with community leaders and Aboriginal and Islander education officers to make the topic as relevant as possible for the students.

“We came up with a lot of ways we could connect that to local knowledge,” Ms Robertson said.

“[We looked at] things like traditional practices of night navigation, identifying constellations and the modern ways the stars are used in tracking.”

As each class runs the academic circuit of maths, science, social studies and other subjects, language skills are continually reinforced throughout the day.

Community leaders also are brought into the classroom, with students’ initial steps often shaped around speaking directly with them.

“We’re trying to bring the community into the classroom, so the language they’re learning is being pooled in with what they already know,” Ms Robertson said.

A student reading at the Warburton Campus of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands School.

PHOTO: Waburton principal Sandy Robertson says the school aims to draw students into literacy by making reading relevant to their day-to-day experiences.

Mobility of students another key issue

The transient nature of the Ngaanyatjarra population also remains a key challenge, with up to 10 per cent of the region’s residents often in transit between the region, Laverton and Kalgoorlie.

The shifts are ongoing within the Lands communities as well, with children often moving between communities and school campuses as a result.

Having taught in the region since 2003, Ms Robertson concedes previous approaches have been less than ideal.

“In the past, particularly when I was first in the Lands, it was a sporadic approach,” she said.

“There was a lot of turnover of kids and teachers, so one of the ways of addressing that is to maintain a common approach across all of our campuses.”

The newer approach means each student has a detailed file, with an individual plan for literacy and numeracy.

It also allows for greater tracking of student movement, but also encourages teachers to collaborate, reducing feelings of professional isolation.

Progress is slow and steady, with growing interest in reading from the younger students particularly rewarding for staff.

“There’s also a lot of work being done with our secondary students, which brings it’s own complexities,” Ms Robertson said.

“Ultimately, there’s a sense across the school we’re onto a good thing. It’s never-ending, but we’ll keep going.”

This article originally appears at:
Article taken from the following publication:
ABC News
Article submitted by:
Sam Tomlin

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