Shaping the Future of World Indigenous Education

Last week 3000 delegates from around the world shared their experiences at The World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference: Education at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. There has been little coverage by the mainstream media and surprisingly little activity in the global blogosphere that I’m aware of.

Carbon Media produced excellent video for National Indigenous TV (NITV) that is available at Black Tracks. Their 5 episodes include interviews with leading keynote speakers and conference delegates. A sample of the video interviews:

Black Tracks Melbourne Vodcast Episode 2 from Carbon Media on Vimeo.

I was fortunate enough to visit the traditional welcome, helping out on the ICV (Indigenous Community Volunteers) stall. ICV “is a not for profit organisation providing Indigenous Australians with new skills. Communities, organisations or individuals identify their skill needs then ICV matches the projects with volunteers to address those needs. Volunteering with ICV is about sharing skills and knowledge and learning together. Skills transfer projects can lead to employment, self employment and community development.”

There was considerable interest from conference delegates from around the globe in how this program could be adapted to their local needs.

A week after WIPCE closed, internet searches reveal little so far. An exception was in the Melbourne daily newspaper, The Age (13 December 2008) that profiled:

Graham Hingangaroa Smith, chairman of Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi — a Maori tertiary institution with students from certificate to PhD level.

A proponent of a self-described “education revolution”, Professor Smith was the first teacher of a Maori school. The system has grown from a single school in 1988 to a network of more than 80 government-funded schools.

His leadership also sparked the emergence of Maori studies at universities.

“We needed more Maori choices in the educational smorgasbord. It was both a reactive and proactive move,” he said. “We cannot talk as indigenous people about our socio-economic redevelopment without a prior education revolution.”

Dr. Chris Sarra, of Indigenous Education Leadership Institute of Australia and former principal of Cherbourg School in Queensland had addressed the conference about how we can have both stronger and smarter education that values both strong culture and smarter schools.

According to The Age:

Chris Sarra told the conference that educators had to adopt a “whatever-it-takes” approach to improving indigenous education.

Young indigenous people often mistakenly thought that being smarter made them less aboriginal, he said.

“How many of you have seen and heard of young indigenous children aspiring to do well in school, only to be pulled down by their indigenous peers with comments like ‘You think you're too flash for us now’ or ‘You're a coconut’,” he said to delegates.

He urged educators to embrace a student's indigenous identity as part of the pursuit of improved outcomes.

Maori educator still seeks the right answers

“The importance of keeping language alive” is one of the themes picked up in the Black Tracks interviews. “The issue of bilingualism in Northern Territory schools is a current hot topic” that they explore. A new government policy has seen a curtailment of classroom time for schools with bi-lingual programs.

This issue has been canvassed in Crikey, an independent Australian online media service. Their regular blogger, Bob Gosford,The Northern Myth, works in Yuendumu, 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. He has pursued this controversy:

Marion Scrymgour is Australia’s most powerful Aboriginal politician. As Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister, along with several other minor Ministries, she has one of the toughest jobs in Paul Henderson’s single-seat majority NT Labor government.

In the last 6 weeks she has summarily sacked her department’s CEO, announced a rushed and unpopular policy and faced relentless and sustained attacks from the media and in the parliament over her administration of education in the NT – particularly on what would be expected to be her particular strength — remote Aboriginal community-based education.

Marion Scrymgour – picks ‘big stoush’- gets bloody nose

The Minister replied at length. In summary:

I believe that schools have an important role to play in teaching regional Aboriginal languages and thereby ensuring their survival. I am simply saying that that teaching should take place in the afternoons.

Scrymgour: I support teaching regional Aboriginal languages

It is refreshing to see a politician engaging in a controversial debate through the new online media.

Finally, the NITV blog summed up the importance of the conference:

Many issues were addressed by other first nation people which our own mob here in Australia have encountered, are enduring, and will continue to battle with, such as native title, deaths in custody, Indigenous Youth Suicide, Stolen Generation, Assimilation and much more.

Whilst networking with other Indigenous delegates, there was a gold mine of information readily available to those willing to listen. We obviously share many battles as Indigenous people, we all aim to learn and be educated in one another's path's to victory, and finding the particular medium to educate the future generation, and preserve our culture, our heritage, our language, without compromise, without mediocrity, but with high levels of service and raising the bar.

WIPCE 2008 – Mitchell Stanley

It is a pity that the good news stories that were shared at WIPCE have not received greater media attention so far.

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