Rawa Community School (RCS) is an independent school in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and is one of Australia’s most remote. Its two campuses are located in Kunawarritji and Punmu, lying between the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts, and some 600km by road inland from the community’s major service centre of Port Hedland. The school was established in 1983 with shipping containers and classrooms made from spinifex (a local grass), to enable Martu children to be educated on their traditional homelands.
The 74 students, across primary and secondary, all benefit from a unique two-way multi-lingual and inclusive cultural approach to education. This approach has a clear emphasis on the maintenance, support and respect of the student’s first language and culture. Punmu and Kunawarritji community see their school as a strong force for cultural maintenance and revival. In Kunawarritji Community the population has increased dramatically over the past 24 months with families returning for employment opportunities and for their children to attend school.
In 2018 the Rawa community school leadership team recognised the need for a coordinated approach to managing a growing concern around the decline of infrastructure at both the Punmu and Kunawarritiji school campuses. As a first step, the leadership team approved an Infrastructure Redevelopment Program (IRP) and approached METIO, an Australian construction and project management consultancy, to undertake a needs assessment and program of works. METIO then prepared an infrastructure program, for all identified works.
EWB was approached by METIO to provide the engineering support required by the team of diverse stakeholders, including pro bono architects EIW, a Perth based architecture practice specialising in the education sector. A preliminary kick off meeting with all stakeholders was held at the start of September 2020, and project contracts were drawn up.
Engineering On Country
EWB’s ‘Australia’ work led by their Engineering On Country (EOC) program, supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to meet their aspirations through engineering and appropriate enabling infrastructure. In light of COVID-19, the EOC program has switched from boots on the ground to desktop-based work. During this time, the EWB EOC team were able to assess and approve the request for engineering advice and design support for the school’s infrastructure upgrades.
EWB will work with its corporate partners to deliver pro bono engineering advice and design on both campuses. At Punmu, there are two discrete projects focused on the renovation of a sports court shade structure and the main building. Works include a structural assessment, as well as engineering designs for the external structure and internal fit-out.
At the Kunawarritji campus, pro bono engineering will focus on the sports court and support facilities including structural design for a shade structure, concrete slab design for the basketball court and design drawings for toilets and storage facilities.
Says Kim Axworthy, EWB’s Engineering On Country Manager:
Our partnership with Rawa Community School will provide them with the engineering design services they need to ensure that these projects go ahead. The partnership will lead to the construction of essential infrastructure for a very remote school. This will ensure that their students have safe and fit-for-purpose facilities and buildings. It is wonderful to be able to support an important project like this for Rawa Community School and their communities.
Holistic On Country Led Learning Model
RCS’s learning model, developed closely with elders and members of the local communities, integrates WA curriculum with cultural identity and knowledge. The school is dedicated to teaching in the context of two languages and two cultures – Manyjilyjarra and English/Western. Maintenance, support and respect of the child’s first language and culture is a priority. Using kinship, land and language at the heart of the curriculum has increased community empowerment and improved attendance and engagement across all ages.
The strategic and critical redevelopment of the school’s facilities will deliver the school’s vision of having physical infrastructure positively contributing to the provision of top-quality education. Joanna Griffith, Rawa School Principal said of the partnership:
“We are very excited that this is progressing,” “The school and community is extremely grateful for the support that EWB is offering. These projects are critical to the health, safety, and engagement of our students and will directly impact educational outcomes. The community and students are extremely excited, particularly for the upgrading of the sports facilities, which will be very well utilised!”
Work is expected to commence late September 2020, with a completion date by Feb 2021.