By Julia Younger.
Edited for online by Matthew Gharakhanian.
The Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) has achieved its goal of raising $40 million, giving 2,000 Indigenous students access to some of the country’s best schools with scholarships.
AIEF chief executive Andrew Penfold says it is working with 35 schools across Australia and the outcome speaks for itself.
“We now have got really successful results where federal Education Department statistics show that AIEF has now got the highest rate of Year 12 completion of any federally funded program in Australia,” Mr Penfold says.
However, he says the AIEF does not advocate it as the solution for every Indigenous child.
“We have one thing that works very well and is very successful and we can’t keep up with the demand for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who want to have a similar opportunity for their children,” Mr Penfold says.
Principals Australia Institute chief executive officer Jim Davis says schools are working hard to improve Indigenous education and the work from teachers, students and government is critical.
“The Australian curriculum and the Australian professional standards for teachers pick up on these issues, in particular the issue about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students learn,” Mr Davis says.
“The other big issue is the issue about making sure that every Australian student gains a deep understanding of Aboriginal culture and history.”
University of Technology Sydney academic Dr Nina Burridge says challenges with Indigenous students are ongoing.
“It’s related to, in some ways, the connection to your own cultural heritage at the same time of working within a mainstream society that has these various other expectations as well,” Dr Burridge says.
She says Indigenous recognition issues add to these challenges.
“We had a separate system than the education of Aboriginal children right up until the 1970s,” she says.
“There was a section within the education act of various states and territories that children could be removed from school if they came from Aboriginal families and were deemed to be disruptive.”
Mr Penfold says the results the AIEF is looking for is the successful completion of year 12 for Indigenous students and a successful transition into a sustainable career.
He says the AIEF will not stop until it reaches its goal, no matter how long it takes.
“What we’d obviously like to do is have support from government and business and philanthropist Australians all around the country to help us to do that, sooner if possible,” he says.
“But we think a five-year plan to raise another $100 million is realistic.”
The AIEF have pledged to raise $100 million to provide 7,000 more scholarships to Indigenous children by 2018.