Address by Archbishop Denis Hart at the inauguration of the Keeping Kids in Independent Education Foundation (Opening the Doors Foundation), Australian Catholic University, 4 August 2001 It gives me great pleasure to be here today and to launch the Keeping Koori Kids in Education Foundation. I would first of all like to acknowledge Professor Joy Murphy-Wandin and the Wurundjeri People on whose land we gather. I acknowledge also the presence of Emeritus Archbishop Frank Little, Co-patron of this Foundation.
I would also like to thank Ms Vicki Walker and the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry for their work in the establishment of this Foundation. Catholic schools exist to contribute to the Church’s mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. They promote a particular view of the person and community, centred on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. We are here today to launch a Foundation, which will assist in acknowledging, promoting and celebrating the particular God-given gifts of the Koori students in our Catholic community.
It is well known that if Aboriginal students are going to perform well in the area of education and training the following four fundamentals must be in place: firstly, Aboriginal students must be given respect; secondly, their culture and its relevant implications must be respected; thirdly, they must be taught well; and finally, they must attend consistently. There are many forms of assistance available to Aboriginal students throughout Catholic schools in Victoria due to initiatives within Catholic Education Offices and through cooperation with Commonwealth and State Government programs.
All of these initiatives seek to set up or build on the fundamentals mentioned above. We are all aware of the work being done in areas such as literacy, transitions from primary to secondary school, using information and communication technology, Vocational Education and Training, and training in the justice system.
The Catholic Education Offices in Victoria have worked to ensure that Aboriginal students are given whatever assistance is necessary for their educational opportunities to be maximized. In addition, in the past few years many projects have centred on the development of a cultural awareness of teachers and students to the cultures of Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.
The new Foundation, Keeping Koori Kids in Independent Education, is a significant and important complement to the good work already being done. It is hoped that it will be an encouragement to full participation in education by Koori students. It is also hoped that it will act as a sign of the good will and the hand of friendship offered by the Catholic community to the Koori communities of Victoria.
Koori students in Catholic Schools in Victoria have increased in number by over 70 percent in the last seven years from a total of 199 students in 1995 to 344 in 2000. The challenge exists to continue to support these students through to the end of their secondary education and beyond. Only 40 percent of Koori students in Catholic primary schools continue on to a Catholic secondary school, as opposed to 76 percent of non-Indigenous students. Cost of fees, books and uniforms are often quoted as obstacles. This new Foundation is established to support Koori families in these particular areas.
A Foundation to assist in the payment of fees through scholarships for Koori students should also improve the self-esteem of students and enhance the pride that they have in their culture. Lack of self-confidence is a proven obstacle to the continuation of education and training in any student’s life. It is a particular obstacle in the lives of young Koori students.
Education is a key to the future of our young people. Yet, there is much more to be addressed in the area of well-being for Koori students. Health, homelessness and employment are outstanding areas that also need to be addressed if real outcomes are to be improved. This Foundation will only succeed if further partnerships are built. Education is essential, but education alone is not enough. A community approach is needed.
Therefore, today is also a time to recommit ourselves to community development, learning and understanding. It is the role of the whole community to create an environment in which there is no hostility to cultural difference and where all members of the community are able to engage in meaningful activity. This challenge is ongoing.
Added Hope through this Project Catholic schools offer the Catholic community and the people of Australia an educational foundation for life to the full, meaning the full development of the person – intellectually, spiritually, physically, morally and emotionally.
It is life to the full to which Koori students are called. This Foundation we launch today has as its aim to assist Koori students to remain in Catholic schools so that they may reach the full potential for which they have been created in the image of God. I would like to thank Emeritus Archbishop Little and Professor Joy Murphy-Wandin for their enthusiastic willingness to be Co-patrons of this Foundation. I commend the Foundation to the Catholic communities of Victoria and I encourage Koori students and their families to embrace the opportunities provided by the Foundation.
Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne