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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Senior Secondary Curriculum Pathways in Remote NT Schools

Christine Moran
Project Manager, Health and Personal Development Subjects, Senior Years Team Curriculum Services, Northern Territory Department of Employment Education and Training

'Many Indigenous students in bush communities often live in the most difficult circumstances, speak an Indigenous Australian language and are immersed in traditional Indigenous culture. To then acquire the utterly foreign language and cultural understandings of Western Society and succeed in mastering both, poses a greater challenge than faces any other student in Australia. The extraordinary and heartening thing is that there have always been Indigenous people who could do it, and there still are.' (Learning Lessons, 1999)

The Collins Review into Indigenous Education, Learning Lessons (1999), highlighted the difficulties faced by Indigenous students in remote communities. The predominant goal articulated to the review by respondents was the need for Indigenous children to develop their English oracy, literacy and numeracy skills while maintaining their own language, cultural heritage and Indigenous identity. Emphasis was placed on the need to support the direct involvement of Indigenous parents and communities in the delivery of educational services to their children.

The challenges facing the delivery of senior secondary education in remote schools include:

  • Retention of teachers

  • Appropriately trained and experienced teachers

  • A need for more Indigenous staff members

  • Student and staff attendance

  • Ceremony and family commitments

  • Literacy and numeracy levels

  • Development of primary and middle school programs to better prepare students for senior secondary study

  • Remoteness

  • Finding appropriate resources

  • Lack of suitable role models.

In 2002 the NT Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) established the Secondary Provision In Remote Schools (SPIRS) initiative to support the delivery of secondary curriculum in remote communities. The object of this initiative is to improve educational outcomes for secondary Indigenous students in the NT by increasing access to, and the quality of, appropriate provision of secondary education in remote locations. Five schools are trialling the project, Kalkaringi Community Education Centre (CEC), Maningrida CEC, Shepherdson College (Elcho Island), Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrur Catholic School (Port Keats) and Yirrkala CEC. This article will focus on developments at Kalkaringi CEC and Maningrida CEC, as they are more advanced in their delivery of Stage 2 of the initiative.

Senior Secondary Curriculum in the NT is provided by the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia (SSABSA), and supported by the Curriculum Services Branch within DEET. Students are required to undertake literacy and numeracy studies, as well as a balanced selection of subjects to ensure breadth and depth in their studies and to fulfil the Northern Territory Certificate of Education (NTCE) pattern requirements. SSABSA curriculum offers considerable flexibility within subject choices.

In 2002, Kalkaringi CEC became the first remote NT school to offer and deliver a fully comprehensive secondary education program that included senior secondary, allowing students to undertake the NTCE.

Kalkaringi is approximately 760km southwest of Darwin. Kalkaringi and its sister community of Daguragu, 8km away, were established in 1966 when the Gurindji people walked off Wave Hill Station in a dispute over conditions and pay. The population of Daguragu/Kalkaringi is approximately 700 people.

In 2002, eleven students undertook Year 11 studies. All had limited literacy and numeracy skills. Itinerancy had been a common feature of their primary schooling, and many students had not advanced past Year 8 or Year 9.

Six students completed Stage 1 (Year 11) units in 2002, with enrolling in subjects including ESL, Mathematics, Australian Studies, Integrated Studies and Physical Education, with some completing all requirements for Stage 1 of the NTCE. Four students returned in 2003 to complete Stage 2. In this, the first year of Stage 2 studies, students studied Stage 2 English as a Second Language (ESL), and were supported in Aboriginal Studies, Child Studies, and Health Education and Science, which they undertook in external mode through Open Access College in South Australia and the Northern Territory Open Education Centre (NTOEC).

In 2003, three Indigenous students, for the first time, successfully completed their NTCE in their home community - at Kalkaringi. All three gained a Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER), and, subsequently, enrolled in Higher Education courses.

Since that time, the Kalkaringi program has developed to include Legal Studies and Information Technology.

Features of the success at Kalkaringi CEC include:

  • Dedicated teaching staff committed to delivering appropriate and quality programs

  • School council and entire community support

  • Development of the aspirations and skills of the students

  • Development of the early years and middle years programs to prepare students for senior secondary education

  • Mixed gender classes

  • Students achieving NTCE and TER.

Maningrida community is situated on the central Arnhemland coast. While the Kunubidji people are the traditional owners, as many as 17 different languages and cultures are 'local' to this area of Arnhemland. Currently, 510 students are enrolled in Maningrida Community Education Centre, at both the Hub and Homelands schools. The preschool and primary school have 'two-way learning', in English and in both the Ndjebbana and Burarra languages. High school instruction is in English and currently 85 students are enrolled.

In 2003, the teachers at Maningrida CEC developed their own middle years program to prepare students for senior secondary studies. Students enrolled in VET Certificate 1 in Music Industry skills, which was delivered by a visiting Music teacher.

Students were organised into two groups: Senior Girls and Senior Boys, with flexibility in programming to suit the different needs of the two groups. The girls were enrolled in a Certificate of Textile Art, working at the local Women's Centre, while the boys were enrolled in an Integrated Studies course that engaged with a Ranger program in which they collected and incubated crocodile eggs, counted turtle eggs, learned about controlled bushfire burning and produced posters about Mimosa control.

Other subjects incorporated into the secondary pilot were Australian Languages, ESL, Mathematics, Physical Education and VET Automotives.

In 2004, 3 girls and 1 boy are on track to achieve the NTCE. The students are enrolled in Stage 2 ESL, Design and Technology (Textiles), Music and a range of Community Studies subjects including:

  • Mathematics and the Community, where students measured the height and weight of the students at Maningrida CEC, and undertook a statistical analysis of different age groups, comparing boys and girls and comparing their data collected with national data

  • The Community and the Environment, where students learned about Mimosa control, and implemented a program to educate their local community about this issue

  • Arts and the Community, where students composed a song about their country, taught it to other students and performed it in their community and at the Garma Festival, an annual Arnhemland Indigenous Festival

  • Health Recreation and the Community, where the students investigated the nutritional value of food offered at the school canteen, and prepared food they deemed to be suitable

  • Work and the Community, where the students investigated the role of a Ranger, undertook work experience with a Ranger, and explored the requirements and courses available to become a Ranger, so that they would be prepared to pursue this pathway when they completed their schooling.

The success of the Maningrida program is directly attributable to their coordinated team approach, and their willingness to:

  • Consult and work with the local community

  • Create a strong Middle Years program to develop students' literacy and numeracy skills

  • Include VET programs

  • Use flexible programming to give access to all students

  • Develop employment pathways within the community, and opportunities beyond the local community

  • Use professional development opportunities for teachers to develop their skills and understandings about senior secondary education and assessment

  • Ensure that their program is sustainable.

Each of the five schools involved in the SPIRS Initiative have different constraints, strategies and issues which have shaped their programs. Many are adopting a common thematic approach that uses formative learning, but are varying their assessment tasks to satisfy the curriculum requirements of different learning areas. They are at different stages of the journey. Their progress is being closely monitored not only by DEET, but also by other remote schools who are keen to embark on delivering their own senior secondary programs.

Northern Territory Department of Education, 1999, Learning Lessons An Independent review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory
Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia


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