The principal of Tjuntjuntjara Remote Community School, one of our most remote community schools, 660kms east of Kalgoorlie, believes a good education is a great start to assisting Australia’s reconciliation process.
In his fifth year at the school, the father of four and grandfather of one, has been doing some wonderful work, with not the least of his successes being an attendance rate well above 90 per cent.
His tireless commitment, enthusiasm and passion were rewarded this year with one of 12 Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards.
The award is a $45,000 fellowship which includes $10,000 towards PD, $5000 for a 12-month program that includes a study trip to Singapore, and $30,000 towards a project at his school. He says the school is excelling because the community values it.
“We have a school community agreement, that we have different roles, and one of the roles is of parents to encourage their kids to learn and to be at school. That’s their job.
“Having that agreement now for quite a few years is at the core of what we do. “It’s about communicating with parents. If a child’s being a bit tardy, you go and spend time with family – and not just me, but teachers, too.”
Klein says at the heart of the agreement is the building of relationships and understanding, and that over his five years in the community, people know what they expect from him and he knows what he expects from them ‘and we get on and do the job’.
Speak to anyone working in remote Indigenous communities nationwide and they’ll tell you that in order for there to be any advancement, any success, there has to be a high level of trust between educators and community members and parents.
“There’s a mutual respect and understanding – and that takes time to build,” Klein says.
As part of the agreement there’s also a focus on two-way learning. Students adhere to the literacy and numeracy of the Australian Curriculum, but over the last four years the school has been developing strongly with a ranger program and the community’s Women’s Centre.
“The grant from the award, we’re using to piggy-back on a CSIRO project of developing twoway science, or Indigenous STEM if you like,” Klein says.
“Last week we were up north at camp with 70-90 community people and their kids at the school, and the kids learned to make bush glue, for example.
“It’s recognising that knowledge, that affinity with country. “We have bush days where we’ll focus on birds, or if there’s been rain, we’ll go out to little lakes if you like and investigate flora and fauna, bush tracks, all that type of thing. “So it is allowing the opportunity for parents to teach their kids.”
“The recognition of those building blocks for these kids understanding their country and their culture is actually the basis for science so then when we move into more western science, that certainly helps that. “...We’re an outstanding country now I believe, but to be fully matured we need to reconcile and hold Aboriginal people in high esteem, or at the very least, the same as us.”
Klein hopes his award win will encourage others to consider working in remote communities. “We really need people with a strong commitment to doing something that is very worthwhile, not only for themselves – and I always believe that we get more out of this than anybody else – but we have the capacity to contribute to remote learning, to remote kids and communities, Indigenous people and build our nation.” Klein says there are great educators in remote schools, but it’s a struggle to attract graduates out bush.
He believes more needs to be done at the university level develop remote teaching services, and not just the financial package carrot to be dangled. For now Klein is busy giving his all to his Tjuntjuntjara community with the hope of a better future for the country as a whole.
“I want my children and my grandchildren especially to live in an Australia where reconciliation is full, and where we do hold Indigenous people and culture as the backbone of the country and that we are proud of our black history – and that we recognise their language, their skills their knowledge.”