Education is the key to Closing the Gap
Professor Peter Buckskin
Dean: Aboriginal Engagement & Strategic Projects, University of South Australia
As little as 2% of teachers in Australia are of Aboriginal descent. Professor Peter Buckskin, Dean: Aboriginal Engagement at University of South Australia, is working to make this an area of national focus for change as an urgent priority for Closing the Gap (CTG).
“If Australian children don’t see Aboriginal Australian teachers in their classrooms, how will they learn to respect and to connect with the cultures of our nation’s First People and our countries history?” Prof Buckskin said.
“Having more Aboriginal Australian teachers in the classroom and academics working in universities will inspire our students to dream big and set their goals high to chart a pathway to realise their aspirations.
“Whether it’s in law, business, health or education CTG requires more numbers of qualified and skilled Aboriginal Australians in this space.”
These concerns are at the heart of Professor Buckskin’s work who is driving a number of projects at UniSA to engage more young Aboriginal Australians in positions where they can themselves lead change.
“Education is the key to overcoming the issues facing Aboriginal Australians today. It has always been about two things: education of our children and education of the population about us so they can be more informed and more dedicated to reconciliation.”
He sees education as critical to bridging the gap – not just in education but in all areas, especially health.
“The nexus between health and education is where we really need to invest time and funds to understand how one impacts on the other. If you’re not literate and comfortable reading and discussing things with others then you’re not going to be aware of what health problems you’re at risk of developing.
“Without a quality education you also don’t get the opportunities that others do.
“During my time working in Canberra there was the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Final Report identified the lack of education had a profound impact on the 99 deaths that were investigated. Obviously if you have limited education you have limited opportunities.”
Recently Prof Buckskin directed the national study, More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI), to develop strategies to increase the number of Aboriginal Australians working as teachers.
“We have more than 10,000 schools, 200,000 plus teachers and over half a million school children, yet we only have about 4000 Aboriginal Australians who have graduated with teaching qualifications and not all of them are necessarily working in the classroom.”
The MATSITI study also revealed that only 33% of Aboriginal Australian students enrolled in Initial Teacher Education Programs went on to graduate.
“Through MATSITI we conducted a major project to examine why there was such a high attrition rate and identified what we termed as ‘walking points’, these included lack of appropriate cultural support, racism and financial hardship – we found they often left due to a bad experience while undertaking teaching practicums.
“I am pleased to say the Australian Council of Deans (ACDE) are working with Aboriginal Australian lecturers to address our findings. The Australian Indigenous Lecturers in Initial Teacher Education Association (AILiITEs) was established and our Aboriginal Australian lecturers in the School of Education are making a solid contribution to this work.”
Prof Buckskin started his own career as a teacher in Broome in Western Australia in the late 1970’s. It was also where he was first exposed to politics and the important role Aboriginal Australians play in bringing about change.
“At the time there was this fantastic Aboriginal Australian candidate for the seat of Kimberley – Ernie Bridge who faced terrible racist episodes such as interference on polling days in remote communities by the Opposition. The 1978 WA Courts ordered By-Election which Ernie lost but he persevered and later became the first Aboriginal Australian member in the West Australian State Government and later a Minister.
“I was motivated to get more involved in community affairs and politics during my time there, first to correct the terrible wrong that happened to Ernie and the community, but it also prompted me to return to SA to get involved in the Aboriginal Australian education movement back home to fight for a better system of education for my own community.
“At the time there were less than 100 registered Aboriginal teachers in Australia and the 1980s was a time of change. So I was well placed to take opportunities as they came up to work closely with government and eventually within government to influence and guide policy itself.”
Prof Buckskin went on to work in a number of senior executive and advisory roles where he could guide the policy development within Commonwealth Departments of Aboriginal Affairs, and Employment, Education and Training. After returning to Adelaide and leaving his role within the South Australian State Government Prof Buckskin joined UniSA as Dean and Head of School of the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research.
“UniSA’s founding legislation and history of commitment to Aboriginal South Australians gives us a real opportunity to realise UniSA aspiration to be the university-of-choice for Aboriginal Australian students.
“We are uniquely positioned to make a real contribution to the Higher Education Academy.”
These opportunities include a focus on building the UniSA Deadly Alumni chapter to create a community of Aboriginal Australian graduates who are leaders and role models in their fields.
Prof Buckskin will be hosting UniSA’s Deadly Alumni Cocktail Event in Adelaide.
Please join him and guest speaker, Dr James Charles, 2017 NAIDOC National Scholar of the Year, and network with fellow alumni.
Date: Thursday 30 November
Time: 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Venue: Bradley Forum, Hawke Building
UniSA City West campus