Educator backs push to lift Aboriginal schooling

Age: December 6 2005

By Chee Chee Leung

ABORIGINAL education standards would improve if child welfare payments in remote communities were linked to school attendance, an educator says.

Former teacher and school leader Veronica Cleary, who has spent the past four years working in the Tiwi Islands off the Northern Territory, says there is "a profound problem" with the number of students missing school in some Aboriginal communities.

She believes one solution would be to link welfare payments to school attendance, whereby a payment withheld from parents would go to a school or health clinic to specifically help that child with essentials such as food and clothing.

In a paper published today by the Centre for Independent Studies — a conservative think tank — Mrs Cleary also recommends that community businesses in remote areas offer job training to locals to improve their work skills.

"Education is everyone's responsibility," she says. "Parents, children, employers, community members and governments must accept their respective responsibilities and not simply expect teachers to perform miracles in remote communities."

Mrs Cleary says major change is required to lift education prospects for many students.

She says funding breakfast programs is "short-sighted", and the money would be better spent teaching parents how to feed the family on a budget. Hiring truancy officers is "a costly waste" of money that could be better spent on employing specialist teachers.

The call for child support payments to be linked to school attendance was also raised this year by indigenous leader Noel Pearson.

Mrs Cleary's paper comes just days after federal Treasurer Peter Costello said that in cases where parents failed to care for children, government payments should be given to those willing to do so, such as grandparents.