• Stronger Smarter Institute founder Dr Chris Sarra with CEO Darren Godwell (Supplied)Source: Supplied
COMMENT | After yesterday’s Close The Gap report revealed that targets had not been met in Indigenous school attendance, or in reading, writing and numeracy achievements, the Government has an open invitation to work WITH people, rather than administering TO people. And for educational outcomes to improve, there’s never been a more urgent time, writes Stronger Smarter Institute CEO Darren Godwell.
Darren Godwell

11 Feb 2016 - 12:04 PM  UPDATED 11 Feb 2016 - 12:26 PM

The single strongest correlating factor to improved life outcomes across every field, including employment, health and housing, is the level of education attainment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Full stop. All levels of government need to invest into education (especially at the early years) and in schools regularly for better outcomes.

For the first time in modern Australian history we have reliable data that details a fundamental demographic shift in the indigenous population. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) there is a population bubble of an extra 100,000 to 120,000 young people. The leading edge of that bubble will be 4-years-old this year. The Indigenous children that make up this ‘black baby boom’ will show up at the school gate in January 2018. There is nothing anyone in Australia can do to stop that reality. The thing we can do is prepare our schools and educators for this new reality. We’ve less than two years to get ready. Now is the time in drive for scale and to invest into initiatives that deliver improved outcomes.

The work of the Stronger Smarter Institute has been to empower Indigenous community leaders, educators and school leadership to directly improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students.

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in his Close The Gap address yesterday, our founder, Dr Chris Sarra has told him why it was both humane and effective to work with people rather than doing stuff to people.

Indigenous self-determination isn’t just an ambition of the Stronger Smarter approach – it’s a founding principal. For the last decade the Stronger Smarter Institute has documented the improvements in Indigenous communities and schools that take place when you enable the co-creation of positive solutions to local challenges.

Our flagship initiative, the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program (SSLP) teaches participants how people can learn tested processes, new skills and proven behaviours in a strengths-based mindset. The Institute challenges and then equips people to be the change that you seek. This is one way to acknowledge and gain recognition for our strengths and differences, and develop better working relationships.

Firstly, there are many ‘greenshoots’ that deserve recognition and our support. The Institute believes that success breeds success. We have worked with over 2,000 people from over 550 schools across Australia. On any given school day those educators stand in front of over 38,000 students. Many of those educators are creating incredible change and improvement. Overall, with over three-quarters of the Indigenous population living in the towns and cities of urban Australia, our funding and policy priorities should reflect this understanding. The overall averages will not improve unless the majority of the Indigenous students improve. It’s basic maths – we must apply the bulk of our efforts to the locations where the bulk of the Indigenous students live. 

We welcome Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s recalibrating of Indigenous affairs to the principal of ‘working with us’. In this spirit we will be submitting a proposal to scale-up the Stronger Smarter approach across Australia. For $10 million p.a this investment can reach 16,000 students and 800 educators a year, in the most competitive and value-for-money investment proposition on offer in Indigenous affairs.

Darren Godwell is the CEO of the Stronger Smarter Institute and is the former director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in QLD.