Indigenous STEM education

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (15:22): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation a question.

Leave granted.

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN: It was recently reported that only 48 per cent of South Australian Indigenous year 12 students completed at least one STEM subject, compared to 73 per cent of year 12 students overall. I ask the minister to provide his understanding of why the government’s noble aim to increase the number of Aboriginal students studying STEM subjects does not appear to have been achieved and how it is being addressed.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) (15:22): I thank the honourable member for his question. I won’t have the granular detail on an area that is in the Minister for Education’s area, but I am happy to make some general comments and then perhaps seek a bit more information and maybe share it with him over a coffee later in December or in January.

In many areas, the access for Aboriginal people to the same opportunities that non-Aboriginal people have sadly still lacks today. Next year will mark 10 years since the start of the Closing the Gap agenda that was introduced by former prime minister Kevin Rudd and that is spoken to in February each year by both prime ministers and leaders of the opposition, who go through seven key areas where a decade ago, as a country as represented by our prime ministers, we have made commitments to try to close that gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia. The Closing the Gap targets include things such as life expectancy and infant mortality rates, but importantly, areas to do with education. I don’t have them in front of me, but they are things like year 12 completion rates and enrolling in preschool programs.

In many of the education targets that go in to meet those Closing the Gap areas, South Australia performs relatively well on a national average, but still not well enough. The honourable member is right that the science, engineering and maths areas provide great opportunities for Aboriginal students to gain meaningful, dignified employment but they also provide opportunities for Aboriginal students (afterwards) to make a huge contribution back to their communities once they enter the workforce.

I have spoken at schools around South Australia and at programs that the private sector and universities are involved in to encourage Aboriginal students to consider careers in those areas. I will find out more details on those, because it is a critically important area and is one of the ways that in the future we’re going to see many Aboriginal people work towards overcoming the great disadvantage that so many face.

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