The Catholic Education Office of WA (CEOWA) will be the sole provider of education for about 150 children detained on Christmas Island for at least the next 12 months, after signing a contract with the Federal Government.
The new learning centre – which will provide full-time education for children in kindergarten, primary school and high school – will commence operation on July 21, at the start of Term 3.
The material taught will be based on the WA curriculum and adapted to meet the needs of the children, but it will not include religious education.
In a letter sent to parents on June 12, executive director of the CEOWA Tim McDonald said the contract was a result of an initial request from the bishops of WA and has “the full support of the Catholic Education Commission of WA”.
Dr McDonald encouraged teachers to embrace the opportunity to provide education for the children detained on Christmas Island, although he acknowledged the project “will challenge us as a system”.
“I have written to all principals in Catholic schools in WA seeking their support in making their staff available should they wish to take up a short term contract on Christmas Island,” he wrote.
“Providing education to children in detention is our moral obligation as education is a fundamental human right and in keeping with the Church’s long tradition of supporting the poor and marginalised.
“As a faith community we are called to radical discipleship and the situation on Christmas Island offers us a powerful opportunity to put rhetoric into action.”
Under the agreement, the Federal Government will meet all costs associated with the provision of education to children detained on Christmas Island.
Dr McDonald added that he was pleased that the CEOWA had been given the opportunity to provide education to children in need.
“For the Government to consider Catholic education as their preferred provider is indicative of the high regard in which we are held,” he wrote.
“I am very proud that our system has the capacity and capability to respond at short notice to an humanitarian issue that transcends personal politics.”
Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Bishop Christopher Saunders told The Record he was pleased the Church would be assisting the educational needs of the detained children.
“The bishops who were part of the discussions agreed that since all of these children were living within our bailiwick, within the confines of our State one way or another, albeit against their will, they are nonetheless entitled to a good education and we had something to offer,” he said.
“There’s not much we can do to help them get out from behind bars, but we can make their time there a little bit more pleasant and a little bit more useful.”
With a principal, teachers and teacher assistants now being recruited by the CEOWA, the Bishop of Broome encouraged Catholic teachers to take up the challenge of providing education to the detained children at Christmas Island.
“It’s a unique opportunity to see life from their perspective, and to help change their lives to some degree,” he said.
“We’re on the outside of the barbed wire looking in, the teachers when they go there will be on the inside looking out, and will be able to feel to some degree, what it’s like to be marginalised as a boat person, incarcerated on a small island on the Indian Ocean, and to understand also the suffering and the angst that they have endured.”