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Gunbalanya School’s semester changes boost attendance

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Gunbalanya School co-principal Esther Djayhgurrnga, Gunbalanya, NT. Photo: Sam Mooy, Newspix.
Gunbalanya School co-principal Esther Djayhgurrnga, Gunbalanya, NT. Photo: Sam Mooy, Newspix.
24 Oct 2012

More involvement from the wider community and semester dates that make the most of seasonal changes have helped to increase attendance at Gunbalanya School in the Northern Territory.

Regular school attendance is pivotal to Closing the Gap in Indigenous education, which is why it is a top priority for Gunbalanya School staff and the Australian Government.

Gumblanya school Co-principals, Esther Djayhgurrnga and Sue Trimble, have stated more involvement by the community and a change to school terms to make sure students could attend cultural responsibility can have a positive impact on school attendance.

 They were concerned about the lack of engagement by the community with the local school and felt this was impacting on children attending school.

The co-principals set out to get parents and the community more involved, opening up school facilities and engaging activities beyond the school yard.

“In the past the community has seen the school as a separate entity, particularly as many of the teachers would only be in town for the school week,” Esther said.

“We’re trying to bring the community into the school and vice versa so that parents, uncles and aunties can get involved with the school and make a better world for kids living here.

“We have opened up the school library so locals can access internet banking or use the library facilities.

“Now teachers are spending more time here and interacting more with teaching assistants and the community so they become part of the community.”

Gunbalanya staff noted that cultural responsibilities had also been affecting attendance rates.

Esther said that while student attendances were high during the wet season, they would drop away during the dry season when students often left Gunbalanya to attend cultural and family activities.

The community agreed to a change in semester dates, starting three weeks earlier each year during the wet season and then taking longer holidays during the dry season.

The changes mean students can keep their cultural commitments without missing valuable school time.

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The Australian Government provides Gunbalanya School with funding to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff with educational qualifications, as part of its commitment to improve education outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

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