Well this one's a bit of a rant, coming from a conversation this week with one of my work colleagues. I work for an Aboriginal Medical Service, with most of the staff and the majority of clients being Aboriginal. Now everyone knows about the apalling health statistics, about the 17 year gap between life expectancy in Aboriginal people as compared to the non Aboriginal population. And much of this gap is due to huge shortcomings in housing, education, employment etc, what we call the basic determinants of good health. The transgenerational effects of the forceful removal of children continues to cause ongoing trauma within the community.
Working where I do I get to see not only the bad side, but also the upside. I know many Aboriginal people who have a good education, good jobs, own their own houses and still have strong cultural links within their community. The depth of support for those who have little by those who have successfully negotiated their way in mainstream society puts most white philanthropic organisations to shame. I'm proud to know these people and to call some of them friends.
Anyway, there I am having a conversation with one of our reception staff, a smart 21 year old lass who tells me she was the only Aboriginal student at the local state high school in her year 11 to do the tertiary entrance stream. In fact, whilst doing her year 11 exams she was asked why she was there!! Now I might have been asking why she was the only Aboriginal person there!!
It seems that at the local high school Aboriginal students are discouraged from mainstream subjects. They are pushed into vocational subjects rather than encouraged to aim higher. One of her younger sisters recently got into trouble at school because she refused to be segregated. When the teacher asked her to leave the class to join an English class for Aboriginal students, this quite obviously bright and capable student questioned the teacher as to the reason why she needed to leave. She asked the teacher directly whether there was any concern about her marks, whether she was failing in any way to keep up with the other students in the class. The teacher had to admit that there were no concerns at all, but that the policy of segregation needed to be adhered to. (Of course I doubt the word segregation was used, but this is exactly what it is, one class for the blacks and another for the rest). The girl refused and ended up in trouble with a note home to the parents. Luckily for this girl she has a father who is an adamant advocate of good education for his kids, so I can only hope that sanity will prevail and this kid can get on with her education.
Of course literacy amongst Aboriginal kids is a huge problem, and there may well be a need for special English programs for kids with special needs. But to target kids on the basis of their skin colour??? Well that's rascism, alive and kicking in Geraldton State High Schools in 2009. Shame on them!!!