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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Remote Education: Failing the Children

Lawry Mahon.

Many teachers in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT stay only a few months, before they “move on”. Currently, the average is reported to be seven months or less. Precise figures are hard to get, because they are so bad, authorities are reluctant to distribute them.
Children’s literacy levels in remote communities are dismally low – with the current Australian Minister for Education announcing early last year that only a handful of Aboriginal children from remote communities in the NT had passed, or nearly passed the Year Three National literacy tests.
Teachers do not apply to a school for a position in the NT. They apply to the bureaucracy, which, in seven out of seven cases I have direct experience with, gives misleading information about what positions are vacant, and where, in order to fill the most difficult-to-fill locations first.
Teachers work hard in remote schools and communities. Many speak only English, and find bureaucratic and departmental stumbling blocks to teaching literacy skills to Aboriginal children in the children’s first language. There is strong evidence to suggest that it is best to learn to be literate in your first language. The use of children’s first language is both actively and passively discouraged in the Northern Territory.
There is strong circumstantial evidence friendship groups to powerful bureaucrats gain the best paying jobs in the most ideal locations, on long term contracts.
Understanding the breadth of the issues, as well as the length of time of the NT bureaucratic entrenchment, help in the understanding of why literacy levels and overall educational success have remained a distant dream for remote Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, and points to areas for potential change. These issues will be explored in this presentation.


Lawry Mahon  (Australia)
Lecturer in Education
School of Education, Faculty of Human Development
Victoria University of Technology

Lawry Mahon has just completed 12 months project work with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, linking the areas of literacy and technology. He has lectured in literacy education and and emerging technology, and currently works in a Victoria University program designed to broaden the understandings and strengthen the links between mainstream teaching students and Indigenous teaching students.

  • Aboriginal Education.
  • Literacy.
  • Teaching
  • Northern Territory

(30 min Conference Paper, English)