The equality (or inequalities) of education today

Maree Whybourne, CEO of the Mary MacKillop Foundation discusses the inequalities we face today.

The year I started my degree, Gough Whitlam made university free. This meant that people formerly prevented from attaining a tertiary education were now able to attend. Our classes were greatly enriched by the variety of student voices and backgrounds that found their way to the nation’s capital. It was also the time the Aboriginal Embassy took up residence on the lawns of what is now Old Parliament House. This brought into clear focus issues Aboriginal people struggled with at the time and from which they still feel the effects.

Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed over the years, in terms of the issues faced by indigenous Australians. However, from my age and perspective, the world looks very different. One area where success and change for the better is evident is education.

With greater numbers of indigenous Australians succeeding at high school and continuing their education at university, opportunity and future prospects for the next generations looks to improve.

That said, I am unfortunately still hearing stories that illustrate the inequality of access to education that has dominated our past.

I asked one of the young women who is currently thriving in her degree about the difference that the Mary MacKillop Scholarship had made to her life. She is a single mother and I asked her whether she had thought about going to university when she was at school.

“I didn’t know what university was.  All I knew was that I had to get a job, so I became a hairdresser. If you were Aboriginal in my town that’s all that was on offer. Once I had kids and was experiencing my own difficulties, I thought I’d like to become a social worker and help other people in my situation. That’s how I started on the path of university. Each year I’ve become a better student and now I’m getting high distinctions. My whole world has changed – the things I know and the people I’ve met.”

“When I was at school, no one had any expectations about my further education, but I have really high expectations of my kids. Why not?

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to reach my potential, which I would never have been able to do without this scholarship,” she said.

The Mary MacKillop Foundation strives to establish equal access to education, working towards a better future for all Australians. To support the Foundation in providing scholarships and grants, donate here: https://www.mackillopfoundation.org.au/donate/