9.5 Aspiration

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Aspiration programs work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to build their expectations of their own potential to progress to higher education and the professional workforce. Programs equip students with the skills, confidence and resilience to meet those expectations. The focus is on intervening at an early stage and sustaining a peer support structure for the duration of the student’s schooling and higher education and beyond. These programs can bring about significant cultural change within universities and schools, and among non-Indigenous mentors. By showing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students what success at school can mean for them, aspiration programs aim to make university eligibility and attaining qualifications the norm.

9.5.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • intervention occurs early enough to influence subject choice and is maintained throughout school years
  • professional pathways are promoted collaboratively by education, community and professional organisations
  • positive images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are presented to students, their teachers and the wider community
  • families and key community members are involved in building aspiration
  • curriculum and pedagogy are innovative and engage a young audience by connecting with their lived experiences
  • peer support networks are built and maintained over time.

9.5.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • securing long-term commitment and funding, when short-term outcomes are limited
  • building the trust and confidence of students, their families and their communities
  • getting information about aspiration programs out to students, their families and communities
  • having few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander role models in science, engineering and mathematics
  • overcoming low expectations held by teachers and schools
  • meeting the high costs associated with engaging students and parents from regional and remote areas.

9.5.3 Examples

Aurora Project and the Charlie Perkins Trust – The Aspiration Initiative

The Aspiration Initiative (TAI) aims to increase opportunities and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to realise their potential at school, university and beyond. In 2011, following consultations in Australia and overseas (including primary research in the United States), and analysis of Australian high school and university participation data, TAI launched an academic enrichment program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students. A joint initiative of the Aurora Project and the Charlie Perkins Trust for Children & Students, the program aims to strengthen academic skills and build resilience and aspirations by providing students with intensive and ongoing educational and related support during holiday periods and throughout the school year.

TAI commenced concurrent pilot projects in New South Wales and Victoria in 2011 and will begin another in Western Australia in 2012. In each state, 30 students in Year 8 participate in the program, with clusters of three to five students selected from each of approximately eight schools. TAI works with the Indigenous education consultative bodies and the education departments in each state to identify the clusters of students. TAI spends at least 20 contact days with the students each year for five and a half years, from the middle of Year 8 through to the completion of their first post-school year.

A full-time state coordinator in each state is responsible for arranging the 20 days of academic camps and additional support, including tutoring, work experience in sectors related to students’ interests and personal guidance. They also liaise with a designated teacher from each school, whose role it is to assist and support students throughout the school term.

The program is being developed and implemented in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education professionals and academics, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and consultative bodies, and communities, schools, universities and state and federal education departments. The program is designed with teachers and other professionals experienced in the field of Indigenous pedagogy and gifted and talented education to provide a curriculum that integrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and mainstream perspectives, pedagogy and content.

Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience

The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience Indigenous Corporation (AIME) runs a mentorship program designed to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students the skills and confidence to finish school at the same rate as all Australian students. The program has grown from one school, 25 high school students and 25 university student mentors in 2005 to over 1,000 high school students, 1,000 university student mentors and 10 university sites in three states.

AIME’s philosophy promotes high expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and positive conversations around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education generally.

It offers an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous university students to gain experience working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students and to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. The AIME program also enhances connections between universities and their local schools and communities.

At each site, AIME operates a Core Program and an Outreach Program. The Core Program targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students located within 30 minutes’ drive of a participating university campus, and the Outreach Program is available to students within three hours’ drive.

Throughout the school year, AIME runs a series of short mentoring sessions for Year 9 and 10 students at a local university campus, and a Year 11 and 12 Leadership and Development Program, comprising three full-day sessions on campus, focusing on Year 12 completion and transition to further study. It also offers tutoring for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Years 7 to 12 at AIME Learning Centres and sends Tutor Squads to schools (each site may host up to five squads of five university students). In 2012, AIME commenced its Outreach Program, where students in Years 9 to 12 at schools outside the 30-minute radius of its Core Program participate in nine sessions spread across three one-day visits to the university campus.

In 2011, 787 students from three states participated in AIME and 36% of Year 12 students in the program successfully transitioned into university. AIME is working with the University of Wollongong and other partners to track the program’s impact on a longitudinal basis.

Curtin University – Indigenous Australian Engineering Summer School

The Indigenous Australian Engineering Summer School has been hosted by Curtin University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering for three years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly underrepresented in the engineering professions. The summer school provides a challenging environment that demonstrates to students what it means to be an engineer and how engineering can help them and their communities.

The program runs for seven days on a residential basis. Each year 20 students with an aptitude for science and engineering are selected from across Australia. The students participate in engineering laboratory activities, site visits and lectures alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student mentors and role models. These activities provide them with an insight into the various disciplines of engineering and related sciences. Students receive advice on study skills, scholarships, cadetships and alternative pathways into engineering at the tertiary level. Students have opportunities throughout the week to network with industry professionals.

An initiative of Engineering Aid Australia, the summer school has previously been run for 15 years in New South Wales. Given the need for engineers in Western Australia’s resources sector and the drive from industry to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engineers particularly in regional areas, Curtin Engineering sought to host the program and was supported in its bid by the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia.

The first Curtin Indigenous Australian Engineering Summer School, held in 2010, was funded by the university with in-kind support from Engineering Aid Australia and the Centre for Aboriginal Studies. Following the first program’s success, Curtin subsequently secured funding from Engineering Aid Australia to host the program again in 2011 and 2012. Since 2010, a number of industry stakeholders have become sponsors and supporters of the Curtin program, including BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Woodside, BG&E Engineering, GHD, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Sinclair Knight Mertz, Leighton Holdings, Main Roads Western Australia, Steel Blue, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and Wesfarmers.

The costs of travel, meals and accommodation are covered without charge. Participants are provided with scholarships from Engineering Aid Australia to assist them to successfully complete Years 11 and 12 and are supported on a pathway into tertiary studies in engineering. Industry provides a number of scholarships to assist with tuition fees associated with Curtin’s Indigenous Pathway into Engineering program and engineering degree. Cultural support is provided by the Centre for Aboriginal Studies.

University of South Australia – Aboriginal Power Cup

The University of South Australia, through UniSA College, is a supporting partner of the Aboriginal Power Cup, an initiative of the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department with the Port Adelaide Football Club, Santos and the South Australian Aboriginal Sports Training Academy in the Department for Education and Child Development.

UniSA College runs outreach activities and provides foundation and diploma programs to students who may not have previously considered tertiary education, bridging the gap between preparation and ability. The college and the university’s Indigenous Student Services support the Aboriginal Power Cup by emphasising career aspirations and leadership skills.

The Aboriginal Power Cup was developed in 2008 as an early intervention strategy to engage young people at risk. Participants take part in sporting activities to encourage them to continue with their education and make positive life choices. Since the program’s inception, its objectives have expanded to provide educational pathways linking to employment. All participating students are required to complete the South Australian Certificate of Education Integrated Learning subject by completing curriculum work throughout the program. Current and former Australian Football League (AFL) Port Adelaide ‘Power’ players and staff from the football club visit each school to talk about goal setting, career aspirations and life/work skills, and to conduct football drills and skill sessions.

The program culminates with a carnival in Adelaide including a football tournament, career expo, skill development workshops and cultural activities. The teams that play in the grand final are selected based on their school attendance and successful completion of the curriculum tasks as well as their performance on the field. The grand final matches are played as the curtain-raiser to a Power AFL game at AAMI Stadium, the Power’s home ground.

Resources contributed by the university include the Health Sciences Van, which is staffed by human movement and physiotherapy students and used as a physiotherapy suite during the carnival. The university hosts a stand to promote further education options, and art and design students and university staff are involved in judging the guernsey design curriculum task sponsored by UniSA College. From 2012, the university aims to promote additional pathways from school to university by offering three scholarships for cup participants. In collaboration with the Port Adelaide Football Club and the Aboriginal Power Cup Steering Committee, UniSA College is exploring ways to offer targeted students access to the university’s online tutoring service.

More than 280 students from 23 school sites took part in the cup in 2011. Of the 265 students enrolled in the Integrated Learning subject, 80% successfully achieved the unit, a 10 percentage point increase on 2010.

The University of Western Australia – Indigenous Science and Engineering Camp

The Indigenous Science and Engineering Camp is an annual residential program offered by the University of Western Australia’s School of Indigenous Studies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Years 9 and 10. The camp is designed to encourage students to study science and mathematics through to Year 12 and to progress into university studies that lead to careers in science, engineering and technology. Twenty-five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students attend the camp each year, a majority of whom come from regional areas of the state.

The camp includes cultural ‘science’ excursions, hands-on experiences in the science and engineering faculties on campus, information on science career options for students and parents, and interaction with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander science and engineering graduates and current students. A follow-up program of contact and engagement is provided in Years 11 and 12, as part of the School of Indigenous Studies residential study and careers seminars.

The camp commenced in 2008–09 with Australian Government funding as a school-to-university transition program. It has become an ongoing program of the School of Indigenous Studies and articulates into the full range of the school’s student support program.

The activities at the camp support students’ learning styles and enable them to make the connection between their community life and science. They explore issues of concern to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including sustainability, ecology, energy and infrastructure. Following a session at the SciTech Star Dome, senior Nyungar ecological and cultural guides present a night session on Indigenous cosmology. This encourages students to combine cultural understandings of the night sky with the science of astronomy. A ‘Green Chemistry’ workshop breaks students into four groups (animal, plant, earth and water) and encourages them to see the link between science and country.

Year 9 participants interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate science and engineering students at the university, who participate as supervisors and role models. The older students are able to share their own school experiences in science subjects, including the alternative pathways some of them took when they did not achieve satisfactory tertiary entrance results. Participants also hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander science and engineering graduates about the careers they have found in a wide range of science areas. The university is seeing an increase in science enrolments, as the first cohort from the Indigenous Science and Engineering Camp enter university.