Encouraging lifelong learning: mentoring through the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation

Natasha & Hayley Lock, Partner, People Services

Only 60 percent of Indigenous students reach year 12 compared to 86 percent retention rate for non-Indigenous students. This gap, at first glance, seems insurmountable but the mentoring program run by the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) aims to change this.

I was introduced to my Indigenous student a little over two years ago, a bright, engaged and polite young adult just starting Grade 10. We have met every fortnight through this critical period of her education and have a big year ahead as she commences Grade 12.

Our discussions often lead me to reflect on my own high school experience. It is fascinating that the social experience of high school can change so much (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook anyone?) but remain fundamentally the same (friendships, cliques, school formals, assignments and exams).

I’m also learning more about what it means to grow up in a town famous for its problems, as well as the challenges of breaking through people’s unconscious biases and for her, becoming a role model before the age of 16. Sometimes I think my day job is hard – our discussions help adjust my perspective.

The AIEF mentoring program sees around one hundred inspiring young Indigenous students through year 12 every year. Many go on as the first in their families to attend university. Many are from remote areas and live as boarders at their school, juggling sport, social and academic commitments all while living away from home.

The program’s contribution has made a difference to the lives of thousands of Indigenous students, bridging the gap between school and university. By listening to the challenges these students face, providing support and sharing our life experiences we can expand the remit of opportunities they have access to, over and above what may otherwise have been available.

I hope, through this mentoring program, to fuel the love of learning that already exists within these scholarship students and assist in ensuring this continues for a lifetime.

The outcomes of mentoring programs such as AIEF’s speak for themselves with the marked increase in retention rates for these students rising to 93 percent, higher than the national retention rate for non-Indigenous students at 86 percent. These results, on an individual level, have reinforced the need to address Australian inequality more broadly.

I was shocked by the reality of Australian Indigenous relations when studying native title law between Australia and other Commonwealth nations as a university student. The opportunity to confront this inequality and play a role in creating a positive future for Indigenous Australians has been truly rewarding.

This commitment to inclusive education not only improves the lives of young adults, but also generates massive societal benefits, which exceed the time and money invested in their education.  KPMG’s commitment to the AIEF program represents growing recognition of these benefits, as businesses and governments around the world commit to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. With global youth unemployment over 40 percent, programs designed to develop educated leaders and role models are vital to encouraging lifelong learning.

As I reflect on the benefits of mentoring programs and the difficulties of achieving equality in education, I am reminded of how rewarding it is to be part of the day-to-day achievements of this young Indigenous Australian. I hope and encourage more people to take the opportunity to engage with students on a personal level as role models and mentors. You will see the difference it makes.


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