by Pamela Nathan
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion is encouraging Aboriginal communities to crack down on truancy and ensure children get to bed early. He says he will work community by community to discuss whether curfews could assist in getting children home and ready for school the next day. He encourages community control saying: It is all a matter for the community and not something I want to impose. He also believes football competitions and sorry business serves to disrupt children attending school regularly. He sees these as three cultural challenges including ceremony business and that these cultural requirements interfere with school attendance. I think this might be a simplistic explanation for poor school attendance, albeit cultural issues may contribute.
About 400 truancy officers have been deployed – one for every 20 students – and they seem to bring good results: in Tennant Creek 246 children attended day one in 2013, while 420 attended day one this year. Of course it is the results for the year that count.
In Cape York income is tied to school attendance and school attendance has increased. Some of the communities in the Cape York Welfare Reform Program have cracked down on late night parties and they say the communities are much quieter at night. Aboriginal Commissioners work with the “weaker” families to make them strong and the communities safe. They have encouraged sorry business to be held on Fridays. These communities are therefore supported by an infrastructure and a massive injection of funds from which other communities in remote Australia could also benefit.
I also was told that school attendance was impacted on by children not having clothes or shoes to wear, or having chronic skin infections, or by not being able to go to school clean because the showering facilities had broken down, or because teenage girls were shamed by menstruation and not having adequate hygienic measures at their disposal.
Problems of disempowerment and marginalisation contribute to depression, gambling, domestic violence and drinking. Truancy is complicated!