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GO Foundation empowering Indigenous students

Brendan Foster -

Proud Yuin woman and GO Foundation chair Sonja Stewart said putting First Nations culture at the heart of learning is one of the keys to creating a bright future for Indigenous Australians.

The GO Foundation was founded by Sydney Swans legends, Michael O'Loughlin and Adam Goodes, almost 15 years ago to create opportunities for young Indigenous people through the delivery of their scholarship program, focusing on culture and education.

Ms Stewart said she wanted to join the foundation because it was all about empowering Indigenous people through education.

"Michael and Adam were brought up by very strong Aboriginal women who were single mothers and they left their homes and moved across Australia to play football and surrounded themselves with people to be successful," she said.

"We provide scholarships but more importantly we aim to give 60 per cent of our scholarships to young Aboriginal girls and young women because strong women are so important to Adam a Michael.

"We can often find internships and work experience or job placements through the great network of people we know that want to see young people achieve their dreams in education.

"The power of young aboriginal people to achieve their aspirations when they have strong role models or school materials that they can relate to them cannot be underestimated."

Several reports have found there are challenges to keeping young First Nations kids in school because of inappropriate teaching materials.

If teaching materials, such as textbooks or films, are entirely based on white models Aboriginal students cannot identify with their characters.

Ms Stewart said it doesn't help Indigenous students' learning experiences if the kids feel excluded from the texts or they don't think they can relate.

"Far too often far too many people have low expectations around what Aboriginal children can achieve in the class," she said.

"Putting culture at the heart of everything we do in terms of texts and teaching we are getting great results."

According to GO's recent Annual Impact Report students maintain an attendance rate of 90 per cent or more compared to a national rate of just over 80 per cent.

Around 78 per cent of GO students attain their Higher School Certificate compared to 66 per cent of Indigenous students nationally.

Ms Stewart – the former NSW Law Society chief executive - said some of the first scholars are now doing PhDs.

"One of the key things that Adam and Michael say is you have to work hard," she said.

"Even if you mum or dad, or nan or pop had a terrible experience at school or no experience at school you have to put in the hard work and surround yourself with people that want the best for you.

"If you do this, you can achieve what you want to achieve."

Ms Stewart is hoping several of the scholars end up climbing the corporate to fill the appalling lack of First Nations people on boards or in governance roles

"There are not enough Indigenous directors in governance roles, and listed companies and other government mechanisms," she said.

"I just think Aboriginal people have so much to contribute to boards and committees.

"Not everyone aspires to be a director and a chairperson but the statistics around the lack of First Nations board members does not reflect the capacity or capability of Indigenous Australians to make a significant contribution more broadly."

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