Teachers and kids “rotting in classrooms” says Sarra

Children and teachers in some remote communities are “rotting in classrooms that no minister or millionaire would send their children to”, NAIDOC person of the year Professor Chris Sarra has warned.

Professor Sarra, an Indigenous education expert, told the National Indigenous Times the problem was Australia-wide.

“I think there is a view that some communities that are out of sight are out of mind and sometimes we think it’s good enough to spend tens of millions of dollars just so there is the perception that we’re doing stuff, when the quality is clearly questionable,” he said.

Professor Sarra said in the next year he hoped to be able to reach more schools around Australia with his Stronger Smarter Institute.

The Queensland-based Institute — which couples Indigenous culture with competency in standard Australian English — seeks to reach as many Indigenous students as possible by partnering with, and working through, school and community leaders.

“I’ve worked in the last 20 years on the Stronger Smarter approach and the Institute in the last 10 years has worked with more than 500 schools and more than 2000 school and community leaders with a reach of up to 40,000 Indigenous students,” Professor Sarra said.

“Over the next year what I’d love to do is get focussed on being able to roll that out to more students.

“I said in my (NAIDOC) speech ‘I’d come for you’ and I meant that.”

Dr Sara said in some cases schools had American product “jammed down their throats”, which was costly, ineffective and didn’t comply with Australian curriculum standards. The problem wasn’t school buildings, but the education on offer.

“In some schools things have to change,” he said. “It’s the quality of the learning on offer and the quality of relationships.”

Professor Sarra was named NAIDOC person of the year at an awards ceremony in Darwin on Friday.

Others to receive awards included Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award; musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu; Professor MaryAnn Bin-Sallik, a proud Djaru Elder from the East Kimberly who won the female elder of the year and Dr Robert Isaacs a Billumum Noongar man, from Western Australia won the male elder of the year award.

Other winners were;

  • Manymak Energy Efficiency Project (NT) – Caring for Country Award winner
  • Elijah Douglas (QLD) – Youth of the Year
  • Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (NT) – Artist of the Year
  • Layneisha Sgro (WA) – Scholar of the Year
  • Montana Ah-Won (WA) – Apprentice of the Year
  • Jade North (NSW) – Sportsperson of the Year
  • Professor MaryAnn Bin-Sallik (NT) – Female Elder of the Year
  • Dr Robert Francis Isaacs (WA) – Male Elder of the Year
  • Professor Chris Sarra (QLD) – Person of the Year
  • Stephen Page (QLD) – Lifetime Achievement Award winner

The awards were held at the Darwin Convention Centre and attended by over 1500 guests.

A two-hour telecast will be aired on National Indigenous Television on Saturday 16 July at 6.30 pm (AEST).

Wendy Caccetta



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