Sir – I sent this letter of resignation yesterday to Chris England, Principal, Yirara College.
I can no longer remain silent while Yirara College fails to fulfil its duty to our senior students and their families.
For a second year, these students are denied a basic right to access their online classes.
Specifically, Yirara delivers English and Maths online but provides just seven working laptops for two senior classes with up to 30 students.
They only have the seven because last year I was tipped off that they were in the College and not claimed.
How can they do an online course without full computer access?
Gone are the days when computers were an expensive and limited resource. Now they are just part of the norm. In my opinion, the shortfall of computers sets them up to fail.
These are Aboriginal students from remote communities in their final years of education.
Most have very low literacy and numeracy and are completing the only education they will ever get.
This is their chance and Yirara’s responsibility to give them every opportunity. Their remote cohort has one of the worst job prospects, highest rates of imprisonment and shortest life expectancy in the nation.
Our teenagers have potential. Last year the senior Yirara girls won a prestigious highly commended award in a national maths competition. Our entry described the mathematics of the endangered Bilby decline in the wild.
Exciting, real maths and the girls loved it. We won, even though Yirara would not support us with about $300 the girls needed to complete their video entry for the competition. But they made us proud anyway. Shouldn’t we be supporting them now by providing them with the computer access they need to achieve even more?
Try to book a computer lab? For many reasons this is impractical, difficult and often impossible.
I have asked, pleaded and begged for more laptops and briefed our staff rep on two occasions to put the case to the executive. I was hopeful for 2020 but it was not to be.
Yirara can’t afford them? To my knowledge, each student can bring the College about $44,000 a year in funding so the 30 senior students are potentially worth around $1,320,000. Adjusted for irregular attendance say $750,000? It’s hard to see a funding crisis.
The Federal money given to Yirara is equal to a parent’s net salary. Imagine a family paying an entire salary for a child’s education and being told the school can’t spare a few hundred to help her enter a school Maths competition and for a second year can’t supply a laptop for the online-only courses.
If the parents of our students were not remote Aboriginal and probably unaware of the situation, or have very low expectations of Yirara, there would be an outcry.
It is a tribute to our senior students that they silently endured frustration from inadequate resourcing last year with the frequent need to call IT support to try to get throwaway computers working.
The patience of these Aboriginal teenagers inspired me and despite the obstacle my class had the highest retention in the College. They wanted to learn, but they should have learned a lot more. So much classroom time was wasted when every minute to improve their English and numeracy is important.
Exactly what was more important than the laptops in the 2019 and 2020 Yirara College budgets? Was it the well-funded non-academic activities, more new vehicles for the fleet, or more state-of-the-art digital equipment such as 3D printers?
Yirara is very proud of its high-tech digital technology equipment and visitors are impressed. While I lobbied in vain for the most basic classroom student computers, Yirara bought a high-tech plug-and-ray laser engraver (pictured) that reportedly cost close to $25,000. To my knowledge it has hardly been used in the year we have had it and I am not aware of any student use.
Yirara is privileged to hold an important role teaching Aboriginal students from all over remote Australia. It’s a daunting task that attracts dedicated teachers but we must have the resources. Given the funding of Yirara, there can be no excuses for the situation I am describing.
In my opinion, Yirara is not nearly scrutinised and accountable enough to the students it is paid to educate, the hard-working teachers, or the parents and taxpayers for the tens of millions it receives.
As for telling my students again that Yirara can’t afford to buy them laptops, I am simply lost for words.
I therefore tender my resignation, in protest, effective immediately and ask you to explain the computer situation to my students. I will miss them.
Mr England provided the following response:-
The College was disappointed to receive the letter of resignation from Ralph Folds who had served the student body for many years. We would have hoped that given his commitment to students that this would have continued rather than taking the course he has chosen.
For 47 years the college has cared for and educated thousands of Indigenous students from Broome to the Gulf and from the APY Lands to the Top End, some of whom have returned to the school as employees and are great role models.
Many have gone on to further education and employment, and most continue to make great contributions to their families and communities.
Each year the college presents opportunities for students to extend their horizons through learning, activities and engagement in the Australian Curriculum and with the wider community.
For example this Saturday a student will fly to Canberra to take part in a discussion with students from other Australian schools. This student won our regional writing competition run by the ABC (Heywire).
He will have the opportunity to discuss issues that impact young people and possibly meet the Prime Minister. Please check out Yirara TV on our Facebook page to see some of the many amazing stories.
The college is governed by an independent volunteer board with skills covering culture, education, community and business.
The college is funded from the Commonwealth and State governments and the operations are audited independently, annually. The college does not charge families any fees and all funds are spent on the care and education of students.
In all of our decisions, at all levels, we have the students’ welfare and education as centre.