Traditional Owners from the Northern Territory have pooled their money together with a local not-for-profit to invest in their children’s secondary education.

The Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park’s Traditional Owners raised $135,000 from rent income, and the Watarrka Foundation contributed a range of private donations they had gathered over 18-months.

The two groups ended with a combined total of $320,000 for the project.

The open plan classroom, teaching office and computer room were opened last Saturday with a smoking ceremony at Lilla outstation, a community over four hours south west of Alice Springs.

Local children will now be able to study up until year 10 while remaining with their families in neighbouring communities, according to Traditional Owner Sadie Williams.

“We have fought hard over many years for our primary school to stay open so that our kids can get a good bilingual and bicultural education on country,” Ms Williams said.

“Education is very important to us and we know that keeping our kids at home for as long as possible will give them a better chance to succeed in life.”

Williams also said the children feel safe and happy knowing they can live at home while receiving their education, rather than go away to complete their schooling in cities.

The Central Land Council community development program assisted Traditional Owners and the Watarrka Foundation in planning and monitoring the project construction.

“The right to access an education in your home environment is an accepted human right and we are proud of having contributed towards providing this to the families in Watarrka,” said chair of the Watarrka Foundation Paul Jensen.

The project adds to the Traditional Owners’ decision to spend upwards of $180,000 on education support initiatives for both the Watarrka school and its surrounding outstations.

Central Land Council’s chief executive Joe Martin-Jard praised the secondary classroom project.

“These community-driven initiatives are more likely to help close the education gap than top-down government programs because the childrens’ families are engaged and are using their own income,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

The effects of the new classroom are already evident to Watarrka school teacher Christine Munro.

“Having an additional classroom has enabled us to separate the students into age groups and give them each more focused attention which is helping them to learn faster,” Ms Munro said.

Prior to the project, Munro was teaching nearly 25 children of varying ages in a small classroom.

“Just knowing the world out there cares about their education is making a difference. It’s a joy to teach smiling children,” Ms Munro said.

By Hannah Cross

Editor’s note 14/03 the word ‘donors’ has been changed in the third paragraph to ‘groups’.