Racism spans the state and private divide

Age - 20th April, 2001

Educators yesterday rejected reported claims that racism was rife in state schools and Aboriginal students were better treated by classmates in private schools.

David McRae, author of a recent report for the Federal Government on the state of indigenous education, joined a chorus of educators in rejecting reported claims by Marcia Langton , chairwoman of indigenous studies at Melbourne University, that racism was rampant in state schools.

It was reported yesterday that Professor Langton said she sent her daughter to an elite Melbourne school because it was the only way she could protect her against racism.

David Loader, principal of Wesley College, said he was "horrified" by the suggestion that private schools offered students shelter from racism because the role of schools was not to protect people from the community but to provide a good educational environment.

"I don't think it's a good educational statement to say you should hide someone away. That's an old theory of education ... we (should) meet reality and deal with it," he said.

Aboriginal students did suffer more racial abuse than other students, but any suggestion that racism only existed in government schools was wrong, said the principal of multicultural Northland Secondary College, Raffaela Galati-Brown.

"We get a number of Aboriginal students at Northland who have experienced racism in other schools," she said. "One student even pretended to be Spanish at his old school (to stop the abuse). But I believe the situation is improving and that many schools are very caring and look after their students."

Of the 308 students enrolled at Northland, 59 are Aboriginal.

Ms Galati-Brown said the Department of Education had made a huge effort in the past five years to reduce racism and bullying in schools, mainly through its Koori education development unit and regional Koori education committees.

"The curriculum now includes compulsory components on Aboriginal culture, history and modern-day issues," she said. "This has created pride in Aboriginal students and increased awareness about the achievements of Aboriginal people." Psychologist Evelyn Field, who runs anti-bullying programs in schools, said she had seen little evidence of racism. Students tended to be bullied over their appearance, personality or lack of confidence, rather than their race. "(But) I'm sure there are schools where there is racism between students because of what is happening in their home countries," she said.

Education Minister Mary Delahunty said Victoria was leading the nation in stamping out bullying, and had also established a partnership with Victorian Aboriginal Education Incorporated to provide the best education for Koori children.