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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 10. 1963.

Aboriginals Caught in Vicious Circle

Aboriginals Caught in Vicious Circle

A Classroom at Warabri, an Australian Government settlement, (Austr. News and Information Bureau Photograph).

A Classroom at Warabri, an Australian Government settlement, (Austr. News and Information Bureau Photograph).

"Out of a population of more than 105,000 aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, there are four studying at Universities," reports On Dit, the Adelaide University Newspaper. The newspaper was commenting on the annual conference of the National Union of Australian University Students Aboriginal Scholarship Scheme (Abschol).

The report said that the majority never attain "Intermediate level, many never go to high school. Exactly when they leave school is not known. Nor is it known why their scholastic standard is so low, beyond the rather vague knowledge that their home environment is rarely conducive to study, as it lacks many of the stimuli to knowledge when even the poorest white Australian homes take for granted. Such things as magazines, newspapers and books, radio and TV are missing.

"It is known that the low social position of Aborigines, which makes it difficult for them to utilize any education that they do obtain, tends to produce a disillusioned and apathetic attitude to education among the older generation, and consequently among the children.

"At the moment, except in a few isolated instances, and in schools run by the Department of Territories in the Northern Territory, aboriginal children are taught in exactly the same way as any other children. No allowances are made for different social environment or cultural backgrounds.

"They are taught by a system which is part of the western culture to which they are strangers, and little effort is made to adapt educational methods to suit their general knowledge, so that you can find children living in wurlies on the gibber plains of Northern South Australia learning to read from books illustrated with pictures of houses, trees and cars which they have never seen, and containing simple sentences about situations familiar to white children, but rarely familiar to aboriginal children.

"Mother opens the door"

"Rover catches the ball"

"Father reads the newspaper"

"As well as learning to read, the aboriginal child has to acquire new concepts which the white child acquired effortlessly in its daily life. Thus the aboriginal child begins his education at a disadvantage, and the effects of his social environment tend to increase this retardation as he gets older. In this way a vicious circle is formed, for the aboriginal standard of education cannot improve generally until the environment and social standing of the aborigines improves, and this cannot improve until educational standards are raised."

At the moment Abschol provides scholarships to university, but this cannot remedy the defects in primary education. Neither is the £10,000 Abschol has in hand adequate for more than the three existing scholarships. Next year, therefore. Abschol plans to appeal for £50,000 to provide ten more.