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Education - a passport from poverty

By Stephen Hagan - posted Thursday, 14 September 2006

The Prime Minister is right - education is Indigenous Australians’ best hope, and they’re taking it.

In a major speech on reconciliation - his first for a year - Prime Minister John Howard is reported as saying the Government's approach was "very much guided by the spirit" of the 1967 referendum, which granted Aborigines full rights as Australian citizens.

He called for a greater effort on education, arguing it offers the "proven avenue of lasting hope for Indigenous young people".


"We need to foster a generation of Indigenous Australians who recognise and reap the benefits of a good education and pass these values on to future generations," he told a Reconciliation Australia/BHP Billiton luncheon in Melbourne.

I support the Prime Minister’s call for Indigenous Australians to tackle the difficult times ahead by maximising our opportunities through quality education.

But how will he make education sufficiently relevant that our youth will feel duty-bound, as representatives of their families, to stay at school to Year 12, and continue to further studies? What incentives will he offer mature-aged members of our communities to return to the classroom, through TAFE or enabling programs at universities?

I would suggest raising ABSTUDY above the poverty line and taking away the means-testing of ABSTUDY eligibility might be a good start.

I read a beautiful quote recently, from Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), Irish-born English writer and clergyman: “The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it.”

As a naive child, growing up in a small rural community in southwest Queensland, I took the lessons of my white educators as gospel and never dared question the cultural accuracy of their teachings. I acquired formal knowledge entirely from Anglo-Saxon teachers, usually first year out of teachers college, and with a biased Eurocentric slant.


At university I became more of a critical inquirer, but I still felt there was something seriously missing in my schooling. It became patently obvious to me later in my tertiary education that the missing link was the dearth of Indigenous teachers. There simply weren’t any.

Indigenous-authored books in school libraries  were also conspicuous by their absence during my formative years.

Studying at university I became aware of theorists such as Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857), the “father of sociology”, who laid the groundwork for one of the first social theories - social evolutionism. I read of early modern theorist, Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903) who coined the term "survival of the fittest". I also read about postmodernism, post-structuralism, critical theory and post-colonialism.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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