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All-Aboriginal Schools

THE concept of an all-Aboriginal school like Pemulwuy College is not new. Officials in the Department of Employment, Education, and Training estimate that there are at least 20 private Aboriginal schools and as many as 50 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders public schools. Some are all-Aboriginal simply because of location. But there are a few urban all-Aboriginal schools.

In Adelaide, Alice Rigney, former principal of Aboriginal Kaurna Plains School, recalls that it was a struggle to get both the white and black communities to accept the concept when the school opened its doors to elementary-age children in 1986.

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Aboriginal elders were against the idea because they were afraid the schools would resemble the mission schools they attended. ``The mission schools were not for academic success but to train you for menial tasks - to become a housekeeper or a fence mender,'' Ms. Rigney says.

Once she got a core group of parents behind the project, she convinced the South Australian government to fund it. ``The goal was to be academically successful, to compete anywhere in life, but keep our Aboriginality intact,'' she says.

The school is set up as an extended family - like Aboriginal culture. The older students earn more respect. All teachers - white or black - are addressed as ``aunty'' or ``uncle.'' There are 6.4 teachers (the 0.4 is a part-time teacher) for the 80 students enrolled. The school mainly concentrates on elementary-age children (ages 5 through 12). ``We could not cater for the high school kids - we wouldn't have science equipment or home economics facilities,'' she explains.

Although Kaurna is still relatively new, Rigney says she believes the school is getting results. ``Outside advisers have told us we are heading in the right direction,'' she says. And, because the school is run by Aborigines for Aborigines, the organizers feel compelled to succeed. ``We are accountable to the Aboriginal community,'' she says.

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