• High school students learning Gamilaraay language. (SBS)Source: SBS
Shahni Wellington

27 Jun 2019 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2019 - 4:29 PM

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced in Mount Druitt this morning that her government will work to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students attaining year 12, by 50 per cent by 2023.

This is the first time there has been a whole-of-government approach dedicated to increasing the number of Indigenous school finishers, with the strategy set to be developed in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and education groups.

"Every agency, every person who has funding or is supporting Aboriginal communities now has to focus on this target and that makes an amazing difference," Ms Berejiklian said.

To achieve this target, an additional 1200 Indigenous students will need to attain their year 12 certificate.

The announcement has been backed by Cindy Berwick, co-chair of the New South Wales Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations and President of the New South Wales Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group.

 "It’s really pleasing that the government is putting the spotlight on education and Aboriginal kids getting the best, quality education they can." Ms Berwick said. "If we’re going to break the cycle of poverty or disadvantage that many Aboriginal people live in, education is the key to survival and to open doors to economic prosperity," 

The Premier has made the announcement as part of the ‘Premier’s Priorities’, a list of main commitments for the NSW government, with details on how the target will be achieved still to come.

“Around 75-80 per cent of all children complete the HSC... in the Aboriginal community it’s 30 per cent. Today I am nominating this as a key Premier’s priority to tackle,” Ms Berejiklian said. 

“We want to increase that target by at least 50%"

"What’s important to us is not only that they finish the HSC and complete year 12, but they also have opportunities to learn about their culture and their heritage, and that forms part of their studies." Ms Berejiklian said.

There was no commitment to include more Indigenous history and language into the school curriculum, as supported by historian Bruce Pascoe.

Mr Pascoe, the award winning author of Dark Emu, has supported a push for all students to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences and stories in mainstream education, as part of the truth-telling movement.

Reconciliation Australia says education, including reform of the school curriculum, will help to mend the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

While the NSW Premier wouldn’t support curriculum changes outright, she did say it was under review.

Cindy Berwick is hopeful the new partnerships will create real change.

"It’s probably a different way of doing business."

"It’s the New South Wales government working with Aboriginal people through their community-controlled organisations to actually achieve better outcomes and we look forward to working with the Premier and the rest of the government to achieve that," Ms Berwick said.

According to the Australian Government's 2019 Close the Gap report, the national target to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment or equivalent rate by 2020 is on currently on track.