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Cultural education is critical


Brigid Veale
2 June 2006
A leading Aboriginal academic has slammed a report suggesting that Indigenous culture be removed from the school curriculum.

Professor Judy Atkinson, the Head of Southern Cross University's Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, said research clearly showed the benefits to Indigenous and non-Indigenous children of bicultural education.

The report by the Menzies Research Centre, suggests Indigenous culture should be removed from the curriculum because it prevents Aboriginal children from progressing in their education. It also proposes that schools be closed in remote communities if they are not economically viable.

The Federal Education Minister, Ms Julie Bishop, launched the report written by the president of the Bennelong Society, Dr Gary Johns.

Professor Atkinson, who has worked for many years in Aboriginal communities and dealt first-hand with the traumas associated with violence and sexual abuse, believes education is the key to solving the problems faced by Indigenous communities.

"It is well documented that a young person growing up with a deep sense of who they are, that is the cultural and spiritual well-being that is their inheritance, functions in this world better than a person without a sense of knowledge of continuity," Professor Atkinson said.

"As well, I can show that non-Indigenous children, learning with an Indigenous educational process – educaring, about Aboriginal cultures as well as their own, mature academically into human beings with integrity and a strong sense of belonging to a world in which they desire to be responsible citizens. They grow up with a social justice consciousness."

Glenn Woods, the Head School at Gnibi, said the concepts contained in the Menzies Research Institute report went against the intent of the most contemporary human rights principles recognised by Australia through the endorsement of United Nations human rights treaties and declarations.

"I have worked as a principal of two community schools and been directly involved with the training of hundreds of school teachers. I have been involved in thousands of hours of research in regards to all that is discussed in this report. In my opinion, this is a document that has nothing to contribute to the excellent and incredibly successful work that is going on throughout the nation," Mr Woods said.

Southern Cross University has held discussions with the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough to secure his support for a series of initiatives, which will enhance Indigenous participation in culturally appropriate education at multiple levels and thereby strengthen the capacity of individuals and families to manage the difficult issues in their own communities and promote their social and economic well-being.

SCU's Executive Dean of Health and Applied Science, Professor Jenny Graham said that these initiatives had the full support of the University.

"They are designed to give Indigenous Australians enhanced skill and confidence in crisis management; strengthen partnerships with industry, government and non-government organisations; increase the number of skilled Indigenous workers and workforce participation; and progress culturally appropriate and relevant research which enhances understanding of Indigenous issues and ways of addressing them," Professor Graham said.