At A Fine School
The school’s academic performance has been turned around, it has won awards and parents support it. The respectful learning atmosphere is clear as soon as you enter. I was paying my second visit to Punchbowl Boys High School, on this occasion to present 54 Premier’s Reading Certificates to students participating in the 10th year of the Challenge.
The new librarian, Guy Beal, has got the library activities powering ahead and it was there that we made the presentation for reading, in the company of a dozen parents – most women in hijabs, one in a burka – who were proud of their sons’ performances.
In a maths class, about 10 students were watching one of their colleagues use an interactive (that is, electronic) blackboard. The teacher wore a hijab. Over 90 percent of the students are from Islamic backgrounds, mostly Lebanese. In a domestic science class boys were learning under the leadership of a young teacher who had until recently worked as a chef. In a year 9 history class, the boys were learning of the American Plains Indians as part of a thematic study around “Contact.”
Crossing the playground with principal Jihad Dib, I met two teachers of Arabic and reflected on the gain for Australia from building our Arab language capacity.
One of their star students is Sam, a refugee from Sierra Leone. He told me that next week he’d be walking the Sandakan track in Borneo with school principal Jihad Dib, who last year walked the Kokoda trail. Jihad has taught history at the school. His father is on the board of Lakemba mosque, one of his brothers is a police office the other a champion lightweight boxer. When he was a history teacher, Jihad found entertaining ways of teaching the boys about Gallipoli. As principal he’s rightly proud of the 34 percent participation rate this year in the Premier’s Reading Challenge, telling the local paper that “The outcome was to get boys to read and we’ve done it.” His parents come from Tripoli in Lebanon.
At this level, one appreciates the cooperative, working reality that is low-key Australian multiculturalism. I am more optimistic about the integration of Islamic migrants than Greg Sheridan, who reflected on this subject in The Weekend Australian and instanced the manifold failure of Islamic immigrant integration in Europe, a failure hard to deny. I make, incidentally, no apology for talking of integration.
If Punchbowl Boys’ High is the symbol I’m inclined to think it is, we Australians will be notching up another success in the story of post-War immigration, with Lebanese Muslims – after all the tensions and controversy – finally getting things straight, rather as the Indo-Chinese before them.