“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes. We need gigantic monumental changes.”
Merely a quote from character Sam Seaborne, of the critically acclaimed US political drama The West Wing, this sentiment nevertheless rings true as the most promising way to lift a society out of the quagmire of poverty and ill-health.
Currently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people are severely under-represented in local and private education programs, with only around 10% of aboriginal children graduating from high schools nationally. Research from the last decade shows that ASTI students are often disadvantaged due to language barriers in early conceptual development and a mismatch between cultural beliefs and national education values. Indeed, by the time they start year one, 60% of ATSI children are behind developmentally. Later, at a university level, adjusting to socio-economic challenges in a predominantly non-ATSI student population can prove extremely difficult.
With this in mind, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has announced its provision of $28.8 million earmarked for delivering primary, secondary and tertiary education programs as well awards, mentoring and summer school initiatives in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The project was launched this week by the Honourable Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry and supported by the BHP Billiton Foundation.
Dr Megan Clark, CSIRO’s Chief Executive noted that this STEM program “aims to get more Indigenous scientists working in CSIRO, but also [to] deliver science projects for Indigenous communities”. This initiative will run for five years across remote, regional and metro areas that have high ATSI student populations. Andrew Mackenzie was extremely supportive of the program, not just as a way of building up a strong future indigenous workforce for BHP, but to encourage “more Aboriginal students to consider a rewarding career in the STEM disciplines, which will go some way to further closing the gap and recognising the important contribution Aboriginal Australians make to the economy”.
Closing the Gap is a long term government program that has focused on ending the economic and social disparity between the First Australian and non-first Australian populations. In the last couple of months The Forrest Report endorsed by the Abbott Government, has created waves, and not all of them positive. Sustaining People will take a closer look at this new measure of indigenous affairs next week and review the way in which Australian corporations are helping to close this gap.