For all the “Closing the Gap” reports and billions of funding spent every year, the socio-economic markers for many Aboriginal Australians stubbornly lag behind the rest of the country. It’s surely without doubt that a huge contributor to that shocking discrepancy is the deplorable rate of Aboriginal truancy and failure to complete high school.
These problems are worst for Aboriginal students in the Northern Territory, where remoteness and language often combine to make the discrepancy worse. Not to mention the scourges of alcoholism and violence wracking these kids’ communities.
So it’s heartening to see one group of students rising above such daunting challenges.
For most young people, graduating from secondary school is a milestone on the road to adulthood.
But for the Class of 2020 from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrurr School in Wadeye, it’s an especially momentous achievement.
For one, never before has the Northern Territory school had seven students complete Year 12 in one year. The last time a single student graduated was 2014, and before that in 2007 — a reflection of the unique and difficult challenge that educators face engaging students in a remote Indigenous setting.
Adding to that, Wadeye, about 400km from Darwin, has been plunged into violent turmoil over recent months
While violence and alcoholism are long-running blights on remote communities, a sudden flood of money from the decision to double welfare payments during the Wuhan plague have made things much worse this year.
Increased welfare payments to offset the impacts of COVID-19 have been spent on alcohol illicitly smuggled into town.
As The Australian reported in August, the impact on young people in the fragile community has been significant, with school attendance rates falling because children have been too scared to leave their homes. When they have come to school, many have struggled to stay awake after being kept up all night by loud parties and fighting.
The disruption has often continued in the daylight hours. As recently as Monday the school was forced to go into lockdown due to a nearby fight. Matthew Spring, head of the secondary school, said: “It’s been a pretty unsettling year for the kids. It’s been interesting to hear them talk about how hard they have found it; they have certainly learned what perseverance is.”
Perhaps the supposed adults in the community can learn a lesson from these kids about perseverance, overcoming adversity and personal responsibility.
Each of the graduating students has achieved the 200 points necessary to achieve the NTCET, which is administered under the South Australian Certificate of Education. Several hit the target months before Thursday’s official graduation ceremony.
Three — Mary Pupuli, Jonah Nemarluk and Ezekiel Narndu — are employed at the school. Mary and Ezekiel are teaching assistants and Jonah works in the school’s literature production centre helping to develop illustrated books in the local Murrinhpatha language. Mary said she hoped to become a teacher and a “leader in my community”.
Another graduate, Mary Jacinta Dumoo, is a Year 11 student who graduated a year ahead of schedule. The 16-year-old, who enjoys music and loves making TikTok videos with friends, said she would like to go to university. “My dream is to become a nurse and help my community. I want to get a job to earn money for myself and my family as well.”
If the gap between Aboriginal and the rest of Australia is ever going to be closed, it will be thanks to inspiring young Aboriginal Australians like these.
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