Better education vital to improving Aboriginal health

Australia must address the critical lack of Aboriginal teachers and researchers if gains in Indigenous health are to be achieved, according to Flinders University Associate Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney.

Drawing a direct link between education and health, Associate Professor Rigney, the Director of the Yunggorendi First Nations Centre for Higher Education and Research, said that a national “intervention” was required to boost the education system.

“Aboriginal health in this country is only going to get better if we start to address, from the very outset, education,” Associate Professor Rigney told the second day of the Fulbright Symposium in Adelaide.

“South Australia is the only state in Australia that has a curriculum from birth to Year 12 – no other State has this. So this as a major intervention that needs to be on a national scale,” he said.

“We need to target Aboriginal teachers particularly because there is no other profession in our society that directly impacts upon the next generation. For instance, only 0.3 per cent of all teachers in Australia are Indigenous – we have an Aboriginal teacher education crisis.

“We need to address this because Aboriginal people are turning away in their droves from the teaching profession yet, to teach an Aboriginal child health skills, teaches a fundamental skill.

“What we do need at this stage is a national transition strategy to be able to take indigenous students to Year 12 and then move them into universities.

“We not only need teachers, educators and medical doctors and nurses. We also need Aboriginal researchers. The concept of reform in this country is built upon research, and Indigenous researchers are needed.

“And we must throw out the poisonous ideology of educating an Aboriginal child out of an Aboriginal education – indigenous languages are fundamental, indigenous pedagogies and literacies are important.

“I think, at a time when some of my colleagues inside the education discipline are advocating that Aboriginal languages and cultures should stay at the door, that such views are poisonous to the future of Aboriginal health in this country.

Flinders University and the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health are co-hosting the prestigious Fulbright Symposium in Adelaide this week. Entitled Healthy People, Prosperous Country, the Symposium has brought a range of international and Australian experts together to examine how such issues as education, employment, housing and the economy impact on health.

The Symposium includes a large component of sessions on Indigenous health and social determinants in Australia, New Zealand and North America.

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