The children at O’Connor Primary School aren’t afraid to talk about racism.
- O’Connor Primary School teachers say it was the first school in regional WA to have a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) endorsed
- There are about 2,700 schools and early learning services in WA and only 63 have endorsed RAPs
- An ANU study found a link between reconciliation in schools improving education and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Year six student Lincoln Hole is on the school’s Student Reconciliation Action Group and he wants other non-Indigenous people to understand how they can affect change.
“They can make rules stricter and make things unfair for the Aboriginal culture,” the 11-year-old said.
“But if they knew about their past maybe some non-Aboriginal people could stick up for others and help them out.”
Lincoln and his fellow action group members were excited to share the knowledge they have gained from their teachers.
Leading the way
O’Connor Primary School is in Kalgoorlie-Boulder in WA’s Goldfields, a region where 12.3 per cent of the population is Indigenous.
Of the 720 students at the school, 20 per cent are Indigenous.
O’Connor Primary School deputy principal Leanne Kelleher said it was the first school in regional WA to have an endorsed Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
Reconciliation Australia is the official body which assists schools and early learning services to develop a RAP through its Narragunnawali program — aimed at fostering knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions.
Since the school’s plan was published more educational institutions in the regions have had their RAPs endorsed.
Educational policy for schools to embed an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective into the curriculum throughout the year is not compulsory in most parts of Australia.
Ms Kelleher said the school decided to make changes after the WA Department of Education released the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework in 2016.
“In 2019 we decided we’re going to move NAIDOC Week across the curriculum so that it’s covered across the whole year in every classroom.”
Making ‘meaningful’ changes
Teaching and learning leader Joey Wright said once the school embedded Aboriginal culture in the curriculum a Reconciliation Action Plan was decided to be an important next step.
“We had to create a vision and get the staff to complete a reflection survey and then from there we chose our 14 [actions] that we thought we could achieve first,” Ms Wright said.
She said one of the actions was involving Indigenous people in the classroom.
“It was: ‘How can we make this meaningful? How can we make sure all our staff are on board and actually know what this is about?’
“Rather than just saying, ‘We have a plan.'”
A slow uptake
Reconciliation Australia has been helping organisations develop a RAP for the past 21 years and has focused on educational RAPs through Narragunnawali since 2015.
The uptake of RAPs has been slow and only 1,500 of the some 20,000 schools and early learning services across the country have one.
Western Australia has the lowest rate of all the states and territories at only 2.3 per cent while Queensland leads at 21.9 per cent.
Ms Wright said the WA government only started recommending RAPs at schools in the past few years.
Narragunnawali community RAP officer Esma Livermore said the plans were integral in making schools more inclusive.
“It also creates the questions for those schools that have very low numbers or have no students: ‘Why do we not have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families coming to our school or how come we do not have those relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?'”
Achievements in reconciliation
Last year Maclean High School in New South Wales won the Narragunnawali award which celebrates outstanding achievements in reconciliation.
O’Connor was longlisted for the award this year.
Ms Livermore said the school was a great example of how a good plan can work.
“The people that are working with them now, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, are people that just did not have those relationships with their schools just because of the racism that was embroiled in there,” she said.
“Come 10–15 years later their relationship with the community is just amazing.”
Acknowledging racism is happening
According to a study by Australian National University, racism and discrimination can be linked to poor health and education outcomes for Indigenous people.
“What’s really good with the school is that they acknowledge that there is racism happening.
“But [it is addressing] what they can do to help bridge that gap between that understanding and acknowledgement and putting that at the forefront.”
Ms Wright said since implementing the plan the classrooms has been more inclusive and teachers have more confidence to intervene when there were issues.
“You hear the odd comment about something that maybe they’ve heard somewhere else.
“But I think the teachers have the confidence to have that conversation about, ‘Even if you hear that at home, it’s not OK to say that here, it’s not OK to really say that anywhere’ and break it down why that is.”