Closing the widening gap
Professor Paul Chandler, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Inclusion and Outreach), on the latest Close the Gap report.
On the 13 February 2020, exactly eight years after the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally delivered The National Apology to the Stolen Generations, ABC Illawarra host Lindsay McDougall interviewed University of Wollongong Pro Vice-Chancellor (Inclusion and Outreach) Professor Paul Chandler about the mixed results in the latest “Close the Gap” report. The following is a summary of their lively interview and discussions with Professor Chandler about the Close the Gap concept.
Only two of the seven targets in the latest report were reached, being Early Childhood Education and Year 12 Attainment. Professor Chandler, Founding Director and intellectual architect behind UOW’s Early Start, said: “Having more Aboriginal children in early childhood education was certainly gratifying. Certainly, all research shows that the earlier the educational journey begins, the better the life outcomes."
“However, from speaking to many of the Early Start Engagement Centres and associated services they would like to see a more seamless and less complex way to have children enrolled and have rebates processed quicker.”
Professor Chandler was heartened by the Year 12 completion data, but questioned how much of this result was due to the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s policy of having students stay at school until 18, rather than a real engagement with school.
To support this assertion, Professor Chandler noted that attendance at school has not improved for Aboriginal students, suggesting the result might simply be an artefact of policy.
Professor Chandler believes a rich curriculum that examines the world through multiple perspectives is necessary for school education.
With the mounting evidence of the sophistication and complexity of Aboriginal Australia prior to settlement, the NSW Educational Standards Authority (NESA) of which Professor Chandler is a previous Board member, has just recently completed the process of embedding Aboriginal perspectives and Aboriginal knowledges into all subjects between Year 7-10. That will be rolled out in coming years and is essentially designed to re-educate Australia.
In more positive news, Professor Chandler noted that UOW had bucked the University sector trend and latest figures showed UOW had 580 active Aboriginal students on its books.
Moreover, UOW recorded a 90 per cent retention rate for its Aboriginal students in 2019, very similar to its non-Aboriginal peers, and twice the national retention rate.
This impressive result is due to the dedication of Director Jaymee Beveridge of Woolyungah, her dynamic team and a host of impressive ITAP tutors from all over the University. Ms Beveridge and the WIC team are known for their strengths-based approach to learning and individually tailoring a program of success for each student.
UOW Pro Vice-Chancellor (Inclusion and Outreach) Professor Paul Chandler.
Professor Chandler, a frequent traveler to rural and remote Australia was not at all surprised by the shocking child mortality (almost twice the non-Aboriginal population).
“Many communities don’t have even have the most basic antenatal care facilities. Running water is, in many cases, a luxury. Indeed, communities are suffering at every level. It is a sad fact in Australia that many Aboriginal men have a much higher chance of being incarcerated than ever reaching University,” Professor Chandler said.
In terms of new targets being developed by June, 2020 Professor Chandler is slightly apprehensive. Natural justice needs to prevail here and a real commitment to new ways to incorporate genuine truth telling as a foundational cornerstone on which any modifications are made.
“Too many black stories are told by white people, too many black achievements are claimed by white people,” Professor Chandler said.
“I see it everywhere, everyday. Until that brutal honesty is recognised nothing will change.”
Lindsay McDougall asked Professor Paul Chandler if he had any parting words. Professor Chandler replied: “Two out of seven, a poor result anyway you look at it”.
A last word from Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Health and Communities) Professor Alison Jones, who has heavily invested in Aboriginal success, views the closing the gap targets as “a set of systems that were set up with good intent but in the wrong way has delivered the expected (largely underwhelming) results. Education has improved … a few facets of health … but beyond that … sadly not”.
Main image: Early minds from Noogaleek engaging in a deep cultural activity at Early Start.