30 Sep 2013

Children at camp for asylum seekers on Nauru get schooling

5:35 pm on 30 September 2013

Children sent to Australia's camp for asylum seekers on Nauru are now receiving schooling.

There are an estimated 700 people in the camps, including about 60 children.

The non-government organisation, Save the Children, is providing the classes and Rod Kerr told Don Wiseman how the NGO became involved.

ROD KERR: We got a call from DIAC, as it was then, a bit over five weeks ago when the previous government made a decision to send families to Nauru. So we ramped up very quickly. We were involved with Manus Island, with the families there, so we mobilised most of the team we still had from Manus Island, and we arrived, four of us with four suitcases, about five weeks ago. So it's been a long, hard slog from there. In terms of what we're working with here, of course it's very early days... We have teachers, we have teaching spaces and the resources that we're getting in are adequate at the moment, but of course Nauru being such a long way away from anywhere, it does take a little while to get the resources that we do need.

DON WISEMAN: In terms of classrooms, what do you have, because we know that these people are still living in tents?

RK: Yes, they are. Of course you know of the problems there were on Nauru prior to us arriving, with the fire and so forth. There were a lot of changes when the families arrived, and there was a new section that had to be set up and a lot of construction work is going on at the moment. So the families are in a separate area at the moment, marquee-style tents. And that's basically what we're using for teaching and recreation, as well.

DW: You're teaching what?

RK: We use Australian-registered teachers. So what we're doing is we're working with children from 5 up to 18 years old. So that spans the gamut of primary and secondary schools. So we have primary and secondary school teachers. We use the Australian curriculum and we provide an Australian-based style of curriculum to the students that are in our care. So I think the students are actually being catered for reasonably well in terms of what we're able to provide or the knowledge base that we're working with. And of course, as I said, we're still ramping up with the resources that we need to do it well, but at the moment I think we're doing as well as we might be expected, given the short time we've been here.

DW: You couldn't regard it as a particularly conducive environment for education, being in a tent in what amounts to incarceration.

RK: Yes. This is an interesting one, because it really comes down to questions about Save The Children and our involvement in Nauru and places like Manus Island. And I guess that's something that might be worth talking about in the context of the education. And certainly we've got a very public stance in terms of we're totally opposed to offshore detention or certainly children in offshore detention. And we have people in Melbourne who advocate and so forth. But on the ground, we are a humanitarian organisation, so we work with people in need. And in this case we think we can do the best job for these kids in what's not a particularly pleasant place to be.

DW: Are they doing a full school week?

RK: Yeah, we do Monday to Friday. At the moment it's a little difficult for them. They're tending to sleep later. The heat tends to knock them around a little bit then and then [in] the later part of the day. So we restructured the hours. It's not like they go to school at 8:45 like you might in Australia and finish at 3 and go home. So the days are sort of chopped up a little bit more than that. We try and work around the climate. But we're also backed up with other people, as well. Education is not the only group that's on the island, from Save The Children. We have a really strong welfare team that looks after the emotional needs of our kids and we have a recreation team that provides sporting activities, I guess, and excursions and so forth. So it's pretty much a holistic team approach to what we're doing.

DW: In terms of sports, I guess that's an integral part of the Australian schooling experience, but is there anywhere there for them to take part in sports?

RK: Yeah, as I said, it's very early days, so the sporting facilities that they actually have access to are quite limited.

DW: Well, what is there? Is there anything?

RK: Well, as I said, Recreation does take care of that side of things. So they are taken out into the community and we're actually using community facilities at this present time.

DW: They are going out into the community on a regular basis?

RK: Yeah, again, it's starting to happen more and more and more. Nauru is just such a tiny island, and I guess on the Nauruan's side, they have to gain a feeling of trust in the people that are coming down. On the transferees side, they have to feel comfortable going into the community. So it's not 'Open the floodgates and they go down', but certainly daily there are activities where they're going swimming. They took part in a youth day the other weekend, so there were things like races and tug of wars and so forth. So kids were down there, adults were down there. So there's quite a bit going on.