Aboriginal teenager Tarni Rigney has become the third generation in her family to study education at UniSA after starting a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education degree last month.
Tarni is one of 11 Aboriginal students commencing an Education degree at the University this year.
Tarni comes from a family of distinguished Aboriginal educators. Her grandmother, Dr Alice Rigney, is an Honorary Doctor at UniSA and was Australia’s first female Aboriginal school principal while her father, Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney, is an award-winning Indigenous educator based at UniSA’s School of Education.
Tarni says she hopes to change the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children through education.
“I want to use my career to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a platform to succeed,” Tarni says.
“My desire to study education was inspired by a trip to India last year to volunteer in schools and facilities with poor and disabled children. India is where I experienced the gift of community service, the power of schooling and the liberation education gives vulnerable communities.
“This experience was so profound it left me with an overwhelming sense of commitment to teaching as a career.”
Tarni chose to study at UniSA to honour what has become a family tradition.
“My grandmother and father have contributed a lasting legacy in the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” she says.
“Their ground-breaking work was further inspiration for me to study education – and together with my aunty, they have all completed education degrees at UniSA.”
While her family history will stand Tarni in good stead, her focus is very much on the future.
“I want to change the poor schooling outcomes and current numeracy and literacy levels of Aboriginal children,” she says.
“Aboriginal students face a number of challenges. I want to be part of the support system that helps them through those highs and lows and instils in them a strong drive to achieve their goals, even when others doubt their abilities, as that is the formula for success.”
A report released in February by the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI) – a national five-year program headquartered at UniSA that concluded in 2016 – reaffirms that education students like Tarni will be play a critical role in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The report, which recommends increasing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education workforce from 1.2 per cent to closer to five per cent to reflect the percentage of Aboriginal students in Australian schools, states that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students ‘cannot be what they cannot see’.
UniSA has thrown its support behind a new national strategy that aims to boost the university enrolment and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Universities across Australia will work together to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled by 50 per cent above the growth rate of non-Indigenous students.
Launched in Canberra earlier this month, the Universities Australia’s Indigenous Strategy 2017-2020 also sets a target of equal success and completion rates for Indigenous students to non-Indigenous students in the same fields of study over the next decade.
Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says the strategy complements existing plans and actions at UniSA designed to improve Indigenous participation and build respect for the enormous breadth of knowledge carried by people from one of the world’s oldest living cultures.
“This strategy will complement the achievements we have made through our Reconciliation Action Plan and through our strategic plan, Crossing the Horizon,” he says.
“Our focus is to build a culture of achievement and success for Aboriginal students which is underpinned through culturally appropriate supports such as Wirringka student services, our partnership in initiatives such as the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, through the creation of the role of Pro Vice Chancellor for Aboriginal Leadership and Strategy and through new traditions that honour Australia’s first people.”
While the University has achieved steady growth in Indigenous enrolments in recent years, Prof Lloyd says it is committed to doing more with the goal of becoming the university of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Nationally there is still a gap to close. Indigenous people comprise 2.7 per cent of Australia’s working age population but only 1.6 per cent of university domestic student enrolments nationally – up from 1.2 per cent a decade ago.
The strategy was developed in close consultation with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium. For more information, see the related media release.