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Hope springs anew in Alice

AUSTRALIA

WHEN aboriginal parents hear that things are happening at the Yipirinya Community College, they grab their children and turn up at the gates.

The children, from the camps around Alice Springs, are aged seven to 10 and have not been to school before.

The college that has won them over is an aboriginal-controlled school with an innovative literacy scheme. Before its adoption, few pupils progressed beyond basic skills. Within two years, 83 per cent could read virtually perfectly at a level appropriate for their age.

Yipirinya is an exception. Across the nation, only about half of all black children finish primary school even though attendance is compulsory to the age of 14 or 15.

Of those who go on to secondary school, only one in four completes the final year compared with 75 per cent of other students. Young teenage blacks often prefer to drop out rather than subject themselves to more hurt in a system where racism is still prevalent.

But the situation is slowly changing. Since the introduction of an aboriginal literacy programme at Matraville high schol in Sydney, the number of aboriginal children sitting their final examinations has jumped.

This year, 12 students sat the exam at one aboriginal school which represents a huge success. Federal education minister Dr David Kemp last week announced that the government had allocated almost A$600 million (pound;226m) to improve facilities for black students and to encourage more to remain at school.

Dr Kemp said educational equality for black Australians had to become a top priority. "This crucial goal is achievable and it can be reached in a relatively short time."

Schools that have been successful in helping aboriginal students go on to further studies all have something in common: the principals, parents, teachers and students have implemented tested literacy and numeracy strategies that reinforce indigenous culture.

Dr Kemp said: "We know that the main reason for the low attendance of many indigenous students is that they are alienated by school. Schools and communities must play a greater role in enabling them to feel comfortable and respected for who they are."

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