The only sad thing about this story is that it has taken so long to get to a place where New Zealand has been for 25 years: School happens on model for indigenous learning.
A SYDNEY private school believes it has struck pedagogical gold with an innovative solution to educating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Gawura, a small, indigenous primary school within a school at St Andrew's Cathedral School, has had stunning success in its first six months, with two students scoring 100 per cent in their end of year maths examinations and results for all students improving by at least 30 per cent, the headmaster, Philip Heath, says.
The foundation class of seven has ballooned to 21, with a full class of 25 enrolled for next year.
Gawura students study a tailor-made syllabus in a dedicated room on the ninth floor of the Anglican school in the centre of the city, joining mainstream students for afternoon classes, breaks, sport, chapel and other activities.
The key to it is this.
They learn Aboriginal languages and culture and do intensive maths and English lessons to counter worrying statistics that put numeracy rates among indigenous children in year 7 at 30 per cent below the NSW average, and reading rates at 17 per cent below the average.
They are doing it this way because they tried to set up an exclusively Aboriginal school and met strong objections on the grounds of segregation. Interestingly, we have long segregated by gender, to the advantage of girls, but race is still too touchy a subject and lets face it, nobody on the wrong side of the fence trusts the establishment, with good reason.
Except in New Zealand, where a friend of mine Kara Puketapu, and his wife jean set up the first Kohanga Reo back in 1982 to do one thing; preserve the Maori language in a total immersion environment before the community lost all the Kaumatua who had spoken Te Reo all their lives.
The language nests for kindergarten kids grew into Kura Kaupapa Maori where the process was continued into primary school and then into secondary schools where students perform in the normal range for all NZ kids.
The key was critical for every single educational intervention, you have to start where the student is. In the case of Maori kids, and even more for Australian Aboriginal kids, that can be a deeply disadvantaged, hostile, overwhelmed place where your family and community culture is treated as irrelevant and moribund at worst and at best as a tourist commodity.
I wish them luck, their job is many times harder than Maori because their language and culture is so much more fragmentary and fragmented, at least Maori had a common language to use as the basis for their programme.
I also hope they take the time to hop the Tasman and learn some lessons about how to go on from here, this stuff is too important to be undermined by "not invented here" syndrome.