Posted 2018-04-03

Remarkable things happening at new school in western Arnhem Land

What do you do if you want to educate your children on Country but your very remote community does not have a school? If you are the Nawarddeken who live at Kabulwarnamyo, you decide to start your own, and work towards that goal until it becomes a reality.

In a balabbala (a well-serviced safari tent) in this remote community in western Arnhem Land, a quiet education revolution is taking place. Nawarddeken Academy is (to the best of our knowledge) the only fully philanthropically funded school in Australia. The community is thriving, students are engaged, and the school is seeking official independent school registration.

Nawarddeken Academy began in Kabulwarnamyo (roughly halfway between Jabiru and Maningrida) in August 2015 with one teacher, eight students and the balabbala. Now it has two permanent full time teachers, one part-time teacher, three casual Aboriginal assistant teachers and the capacity to teach 20 primary students and 10 early learners (0-4 year olds).

“The Academy was the dream of a respected old man who passed away in 2009, Lofty Nadjamerrek,” says Olga Scholes, Executive Officer of Nawarddeken Academy. “He recognised the health and wellbeing of his people relied heavily on being on Country, connected to Country and maintaining cultural traditions.

The Rangers who live in Kabulwarnamyo are employed to look after 1.4 million hectares of land. They do a lot of burning to reduce wildfires and sell the carbon abatement to companies on the carbon market. The community are using traditional knowledge to create revenue and employment. The Academy means their children can grow up and be educated within those traditions and on that Country.”

All school-age students and some school operations are funded by Australian-based donors through Karrkad-Kanjdji Trust, which steers philanthropic money into projects within the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas. There is also in-kind support from Warddeken Land Management which earns money through carbon credits.

Over the past two years, attendance for students who are enrolled and in community at Kabulwarnamyo is 85%. Teachers and community members report that being educated in their home community means that children’s health is improved and their confidence levels have risen. The Academy and the community are committed to building on a unique, two way educational system that successfully supports children into a future that delivers on the aspirations of the community.  

Nawarddeken Academy submitted an application for registration as an Independent School to the Northern Territory Department of Education in August 2017, as registered company Nawarddeken Academy Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Warddeken Land Management. The school anticipates a response from Government in June 2018.

“It is a model that works, and one that other communities are taking note of,” Ms Scholes says. “The proof of its effectiveness will be the next generation of educated, culturally connected, strong Warddeken people, and everyone involved is excited to play a part in making this happen.”


All photos: David Hancock