Supporters of an Aboriginal school in Melbourne have occupied the gym in a sit-in protest against plans to take half the school’s land. ‘’We want at least one Aboriginal school in Melbourne. They are trying to assimilate our kids into big melting-pot schools, but it’s not working and our kids are dropping out’’, according to spokesperson Gary Murray.
This attack on one of the last Aboriginal schools in Victoria is another example of efforts at “mainstreaming” and the cutback of Aboriginal services—the same agenda seen in the NT Intervention.
The Victorian Education Department is planning to demolish the gymnasium and school hall at Ballerrt Mooroop College, a Koori school in Glenroy, Melbourne. The Koori school is being told it must make way for car parking for an incoming Special School.
While $18 million is being spent on setting up the Special School, the Aboriginal school has been offered just $750,000 to move. While the Special School is desperately needed, the state government has failed to explain why it has to be placed on the same site.
The Koori Open Door Education (KODE) school, set up in 1995, has suffered severe under-funding and an imposed limit on the number of Koori enrolments. Originally the school offered primary to year 12, but since its creation primary education as well as year 11 and 12 have been cut.
The cuts appear to be part of a push towards closing KODE schools in Victoria. This attack on programs for Aboriginal students is of a piece with the attack on bilingual education in the Northern Territory. Both are justified by the idea that Aboriginal students must be assimilated into mainstream education.
For instance in January 2008 a report for the state government by Aboriginal academic Chris Sara recommended the immediate closure of KODE Schools.
The report argued that despite receiving a “lion’s share” of government funding, and generous teacher-student ratios, Aboriginal schools were “clearly not” reaching acceptable educational standards. The report recommended transferring students back to mainstream schools with more support.
Despite major student and community protests, in September 2008 the Mildura Aboriginal school was forced to sack 20 teachers, and now runs only year 7 to 10 classes.
Last year, 40 per cent of indigenous students in Victoria failed national reading tests. But governments are using the test data to punish Aboriginal schools instead of addressing social disadvantage with adequate funding, infrastructure, resources and support.
The gym is set to be demolished on December 17, but the Broadmeadows Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group has vowed to fight the plans.
By Jasmine Ali and Lucy Honan