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Children’s Ground supported the gathering of Utyerre Apanpe Forum held between 17-20 July in Central Australia. Over 50 participants from around 20 Nations attended the event. During the week, the landmark M.K. Turner Report, Apmerengentyele: A Plan for First Nations-led and Designed Education Reform in Australia was launched.

Utyerre Apanpe is a national network of First Nations educators, working through cultural authority and educational standards.  Utyerre Apanpe is guided by Elders and over the past four years, this network has convened over 100 First cultural educators across 60 Nations in Australia.

Dr. M.K. Turner OAM was a celebrated Elder and leader of the Arrernte nation, and a founding Elder and board member of Children’s Ground. Dr. Turner, who was at the forefront of First Nations language and education for fifty years, led the report’s creation. She has articulated Apmerengentyele as the system of learning that comes from the First Nations worldview. She passed away two weeks before her report was launched. Children’s Ground celebrates her lifelong dedication to protecting First Nations systems of knowledge, learning and language.

Educators presented forum discussions on a First Nations Education System to Senator Kerrynne Liddle, Coalition Senator for the Northern Territory. Senator Liddle, an Arrernte woman, visited and listened to the group’s emphasis that a First Nations Education system is important and needed, especially when a referendum on a First Nations Voice to Parliament is being considered.

At a time during which the Government has sought bold reforms in education, health, housing and employment to hear the voices of First Nations people, Utyerre Apanpe and the M.K. Turner Report recommends timely solutions for education reform. Senator Liddle provided strong support for acting on the recommendations of Report.

For decades, Elders have been calling for recognition of a First Nations learning system that has been successfully practiced on this continent for millennia. Dr. M.K. Turner OAM

The M.K. Turner Report recommends recognition and resourcing by Federal, State and Territory governments of a stand-alone First Nations model of education to be available nationally for all Indigenous communities. This model will acknowledge and privilege a First Nations way of thinking, learning and governance.

The Report also recommends a complete reform of First Nations education and the establishment of our traditional system of learning, led by us, supported in partnership with Government. Australian governments at all levels have exhausted their solutions and failed our children. Our training comes through our Elders, our systems of knowledge and the land. 

The further five recommendations call for Government to work with Utyerre Apanpe to establish structures, standards, resourcing and recognition for this system.   

The Report presents the international evidence from both the United Nations and the World Bank. The international evidence that children perform better in education when they are taught through their own languages and cultures has been accepted for decades. Australian governments and the education system they oversee are failing First Nations children in Australia. Our children are being forced to leave their identity, culture, lore and language at the door. This places them at a disadvantage, and they have been set up to fail.

The government has not met our standards in language, culture, respecting our systems of law, health and education. The government, by their own evidence and statistics, have failed us and our children. The Closing the Gap statistics show an alarming picture for our children, especially in remote areas. We live with this systemic failure every day and it is harming our children. We want to Close the Gap our way – from a First Nations perspective.   

It is time for serious reform, and we ask you to listen to the reform that has been proposed by Elders and community leaders over many decades. This is our voice. It is our collective voice.

As First Nations people, we have the oldest education systems in the world. Dr. M.K. Turner presented these systems as Apmerengentyele (from the land). Our system does not simply teach our children ‘subjects,’ but how knowledge is used. Our system teaches children about responsibility: how to be respectful, caring, and independent people. We create learning environments that are culturally empowered and safe. We expect the best and want to deliver the best for our children. 

It is critical that we commit to reform now. We are losing our Elders. Our cultures and languages are at serious risk and so our children are at serious risk. We must create this change. If we don’t do it now, then when? 

As we speak to what a Voice to Parliament means, it is the voices of our Elders that must be first and foremost. The voices that hold our cultural authority and rights across our many Nations.

Australian governments are seeking innovation, new approaches, and bold reforms. They say they are committed to create a different future for our children. We can no longer react to crisis-after-crisis in our communities. We are calling on government to commit to real reform that will be the central driving force for change – through education, our cultures and languages, run by us, and fully supported by the Australian Government.   

Utyerre Apanpe will hold an official launch of the M.K. Turner Report to Parliamentary members in Canberra later in the year.