In 2007 the (then) schools dispersed throughout the Ngaanyatjarra Lands were federated into a single institution. They became campuses of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands School operating under the leadership of an Executive Principal. This was done to enable them to develop a strategic framework and to work collaboratively, share resources, and better address the disadvantages that can arise from their geographic isolation. The School now comprises nine campuses spread across the Western Desert of Western Australia and provides for students from kindergarten to Year 12. Although the campuses are separated by large distances they are bound together by the culture of the Ngaanyatjarra people.
The Aboriginal people (Yarnangu) who reside in the communities are part of a single social system that is referred to as the Western Desert Cultural Bloc. The Ngaanyatjarra people maintain a rich cultural heritage that is based on a close connection with the Land. They have a unique culture, based on the tjukurrpa (the Dreaming), which provides the framework for their world view and their relationship to the land and each other. While families in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands share language and culture and in this sense form a single community, it is also the case that there are subtle differences in each of the communities in which our campuses are situated, varying in size and geographical isolation.
The Ngaanyatjarra Lands are situated in the east of Western Australia covering some 250,000 sq. km. (about the size of Victoria) stretching from the tri-state border with South Australia and the Northern Territory. Approximately 2,000 Aboriginal people live in eleven communities that comprise the Ngaanyatjarra Lands. The population of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands includes the first wave of people who came out of the Western Desert in the 1930s and the last wave in the 1960s. The Ngaanyatjarra people have never left their country, nor has their land been annexed or occupied by outsiders. The predominant language spoken is Ngaanyatjarra though in some places people speak Western Desert dialects of Pitjantjatjara and Pintupi.
The Aboriginal people in the Lands still hunt and gather bush tucker in traditional ways. Traditional men's and women's business remains very strong. The Elders teach the young people about the traditional ways of hunting , gathering and cooking bush tucker, but they also work within the community painting, (tjanpi) weaving and making wooden artefacts (purnu). They are very concerned that their young people do not lose their traditional language and culture.
The school is working with the community to support this process. It wants to ensure that students are prepared to live a good life on the Lands, to be future leaders, and to develop the skills and knowledge to live successfully in 'mainstream' Australia if that is what they want to do.
Like many remote Indigenous schools the major challenge is to improve the attendance levels of students. Considerable effort has been put into ensuring a close relationship between the various campuses and their respective communities and on ensuring that students experience a safe, welcoming and stimulating learning environment while at school.
There is a whole school approach to the professional learning of staff with a central focus on supporting staff to address the needs of students whose first language is not English. There is also a focus on developing a common set of strategies, and shared language, to manage students in classrooms and to expand the range of effective classroom practices. This is based on the Department's endorsed programs: Classroom Management Strategies (CMS) and Instructional Strategies (IS)
We used the Big Picture Education approach as a model for our secondary schooling provision. Effectiely, this means we endeavour to tap into individual student interests and aptitudes in a manner that students and their families are engaged in authentic and meaningful learning.