Knowing the heart, knowing the mind

Just back from an IB conference in North Sydney.

The theme of the Conference was ‘Knowing the Heart, Knowing the Mind’ and opened with a key note by Dame Carol Kidu, from Papua New Guinea, who spoke on the topic ‘Building Intercultural Understanding’ who spoke about the need to respect the indigenous cultural perspective against the ‘bulldozers of socio-economic and cultural change’

It was interesting to hear about the real challenges faced in PNG, which has 6 million people and 800 languages but what interested me most was the way she spoke about the importance of the ‘inter-generational extended family’. I liked her quote that ‘The technology is simple, but the relationships are very complex’

She posed the question to the IB about whether it can meet the challenge of the non-academic student.

The next speaker was Malcolm Pritchard, the Principal of Kormilda College in Darwin, NT, a school that has a significant proportion of indigenous students from remote communities there as boarders. He began by saying, “We are a continent away from the comfortable north shore of Sydney” and he talked of his school and the IB program there. He said that his priority was to respect and recognise the learning of indigenous students, not to try to assimilate them.

I was particularly struck by the differences in indigenous students that he spoke about, and particularly the way he described them as ‘salt-water people, fresh-water people and desert people’.

Significantly, Malcolm also talked about the pressures placed upon schools like his by a sensationalist media.

In the next session, Eva Cox spoke passionately about building intercultural understanding and the need for a more civil society. She spoke about the dangers of excluding the ‘other’. She argued that we should avoid becoming part of the homogeneous ‘blob’ of acceptance and keep alert and support dissent. I liked her quote that ‘compliance doesn’t create anything new’. She also argued that the IB should focus more on the kinds of students that the certificate produced, rather than just the final results.

At this point one of the IB leaders immediately jumped to the defence of the IB and blamed schools for this emphasis on results and passing and failing but didn’t address the question from the audience about why it was necessary that students could ‘fail’ the IB Diploma.

The next session was a panel session involving short presentations from Leanne Nixon, QLD Academy for Health Sciences, who talked about Queensland Academies, selective high schools in Queensland and why they saw the IB as appropriate there. There are more details here:

Mona Abdel-Fattah, Principal of the Sydney school in the Australian International Academy of Education, told us that this year it was 25 years of Islamic education in Australia and why her school had chosen IB. At one point she spoke about a ‘typical day’ in the life of a student at her school and referred to the way that Islam was portrayed in the media so constantly, and the effect that portrayal had on the young people she worked with.

Ruby Holland, talked about how her school, St Paul’s Grammar School (Penrith), worked with the ethos of the IB. St Paul’s Grammar is also 25 years old this year and was the first p-12 IB school in NSW. She spoke about the way her school had worked at ‘democratising the IB’ and moving away from seeing the IB as only for elite students. She spoke of being a fairly rigorous faith-based school, which she described as looking for meaning outside the world and what that implied for how the school worked, and what they did. The ethos of the school centered around faith, hope, joy, humility, love, peace, truth, purity and justice.

Everyone was ready for lunch by now and a sudden violent thunderstorm kept everyone inside, and had all the Victorians marvelling at this thing called rain!

After lunch, I was particularly looking forward to hearing Professor Larissa Behrendt, (Law and Indigenous Studies, University of Technology, Sydney) talking about ‘After Sorry, What?’, mainly because I had read and written about her book Home, a novel focused around her own indigenous background and experiences.

Behrendt’s presentation was earnest and forthright, but also repetitive, and just read out. She rarely looked at her audience and made not attempt to connect with them. Despite her obvious experience and research background, it seemed to me that she was almost hectoring her audience, a group of educators who were most likely in favour of her ideas.

Behrendt said that for years Australia had been dominated by the politics of fear: fear of others, fear of economic insecurity and more. She then spoke of how important the ‘Sorry’ apology was for Australia, and what should happen now. She posed the question that many Australians asked: ‘How is that we spend so much money on indigenous issues and yet we don’t seem to be able to make a difference’. The answer is that much of the money tagged for indigenous funding doesn’t get there, with much going on admin. In fact, surprisingly, she argued that health funding for indigenous Australians may actually be under-funded by $400 million or more according to Access Economics.

Behrendt was critical of the indigenous ‘intervention’ as embracing the ideologies of assimilation and mainstreaming rather than being founded on research as to what will actually work. She also criticised the punitive nature of linking welfare payments to school attendance as simply not working.



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