Internationally renowned Indigenous education expert Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney has warned that providing more funding for Indigenous education to private schools at the cost of funding public schools would be ‘seriously problematic and irresponsible’.
Professor Rigney from the University of South Australia’s School of Education was responding to reports indicating that the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia was advocating that private schools receive more taxpayer funding to establish ‘satellite’ Indigenous-only campuses.
The satellite schools would be eligible for more funding for each student, owing to their Indigenous-only population.
Professor Rigney – who was the 2011 National Aboriginal Scholar of the Year and has worked in Aboriginal education for more than 20 years – said 83.9 per cent of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students were enrolled in public schools in 2016, with around ten per cent enrolled in Catholic schools and around five per cent in independent schools.
‘With such an overwhelming proportion of ATSI students in the public system, it would seem seriously problematic and irresponsible to divert more taxpayer funding away from the schools where they are being educated,’ Professor Rigney said.
‘If the prime minister wants to make more headway in Closing the Gap and address literacy and numeracy issues among Indigenous students, the literature suggests the best way to use government funding would be to invest in teachers’ skills and professional development – to work with teachers to implement the curriculum.
‘To take from the poor schools where most of these students are enrolled and give to rich schools would seem disingenuous.’
Professor Rigney said the proposal raised questions about what kind of education the Australian Government wanted to support.
‘Catholic schools and private schools don’t offer the same education as public schools. They don’t have the same purpose and offer the same values systems as public schools,’ he said.
‘Any change to funding models should explore how we want to invest our education dollars and for what outcomes.’