Today’s blog post is a little off topic, and doesn’t directly relate to my thesis or research practice, but nonetheless is very important to me. I wanted to post about National Close the Gap Day, which is being celebrated today (Thursday 19th March). This important day raises public awareness around health inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians. It is a call to end this gap through a coalition of Australia’s leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and human rights organisations and the general public.
For me the closing of the gap is important across all aspects of life. I don’t often see first-hand the health inequality, but I do see inequality in an educational setting. Since my early days teaching high school, I have witnessed Indigenous students navigate the public education system, which was inflexible and often in conflict with their cultural needs. Sadly, the system did not allow for the complexities of Indigenous culture and as a result many of these students fell to the wayside. I often felt that there was nothing I could do as a classroom teacher, and there was little support by the school, let alone the department of education. There were programs in place for Indigenous students to come together socially, but little in the way of actual learning support. I am not sure how much this has changed as it has been 8 years since I worked in the high school setting. Since I moved to the university sector, I have thankfully seen an alternative approach to educational support. I have been fortunate enough to work as a tutor in the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme at both the Ngunnawal Centre at the University of Canberra and the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Part of my role involves working with undergraduate students to achieve their goals of obtaining a university degree, but I often feel that the more important part of my role is to encourage them to see themselves as leaders for their communities. One of my students was recently accepted into an Honours program at UTS, and has been awarded a cadet-ship with Jumbunna to become a tutor herself. This for me is the most rewarding aspect of my job. To see a young woman become a respected leader in this way, means hopefully one day, all tutors within the program will be Indigenous. I personally feel that this is crucial for new Indigenous students to university – to see themselves represented in this way. To know that they can achieve in their academic studies and have dreams they can make reality. I highly respect the work that these centres do within the university setting by offering support and guidance to Indigenous students; many of whom are the first in their families to undertake higher education.
My heart breaks when I hear that the government is trying to close remote communities, rather than engage respectfully with them in the problem-solving itself. My dad recently told me a story about a remote community in WA that he visited when he was younger (late 1970s, maybe). He told me of how the leaders of this community had a strong focus on education. The leaders managed the funding coming from the government to ensure that the children were taught formal education as well as their cultural history. Once a child was old enough, they sponsored them to go to Perth University to study, and upon completion of those studies, they would return home to pass on their knowledge and skills to the children in the community. All the children benefited from this education and knowledge-sharing. From what my Dad tells me this was a very successful program. What is highlighted for me in this story is that the leaders of the community were engaged and tasked with running their community. They never had to lose their connection to their culture in order to gain a formal education. For me it is simple maths that focuses on addition, and not subtraction. You can never learn too much, or stop learning… and we can all benefit from learning more! So today I am learning more about Closing the Gap and I hope all of Australia can get behind this campaign.