Researched and prepared by the Aurora Education Foundation, the inaugural 2024 RISE Impact Report includes first-of-its-kind insights into just what is flourishing in terms of programs and initiatives that are achieving significant outcomes.

“When we talk about ‘first-of-its-kind insights’, we’re talking about the end game – our ability to identify what works in supporting and encouraging Indigenous student outcomes based on five years of program delivery and evaluation,” CEO of Aurora, Leila Smith tells EducationHQ.

“The 2024 RISE Impact Report is the first iteration of this process, with early findings showing that when students are supported through RISE, there is a significant increase in self-confidence, educational aspirations and cultural knowledge."

Importantly, Smith notes, Aurora staff and mentors are having a direct impact on students deciding to complete the HSC versus other education pathways.

Founded by Richard Potok in 2006, Aurora has been instrumental in supporting international pathways in education for Indigenous scholars, with its mission to ‘inspire First Peoples in their education journey and connect them with educational and career opportunities that enable them to realise their potential’.

Smith, a Wiradjuri woman and Charlie Perkins Scholar with an Mphil in Public Policy from the University of Cambridge and experience in Aboriginal health and education sectors, was appointed as the organisation’s first Indigenous CEO in 2020.

RISE was launched in 2022 and is in the process of delivering three distinct programs (HSP Core, HSP Focus and HSP Learn) to 800 Indigenous high school students over five years.

To date, it has partnered with 540 students from 49 schools, and through its program delivery has facilitated 2315 tutoring sessions, 55 Family Engagement and Cultural Immersion Days, and 20 interviews with Indigenous students and their families.

The term ‘success’ has many gauges and is measured in a range of different ways, but in an Indigenous education context, it is clear.

“Through multiple analyses, we found that students’ social and emotional wellbeing played a critical role in ‘success’ in education,” Smith says, along with connection to culture, family, and Country.

“Social and emotional wellbeing also featured prominently in our analysis of the Longitudinal Survey of Indigenous Children and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) surveys.

“And in our conversations with Indigenous students, families and Aurora alumni, much of the discussions focused on the importance of education in supporting the social and emotional development of students and enabling them to achieve their goals.”

Alarmingly, these conversations revealed that respondents believed success in education was often despite, rather than because of, the nation’s education system and that it had restricted opportunities for First Nations students.

“Several alumni suggested that they did not feel valued or recognised in their Indigenous identity at high school and ultimately did not feel supported to fulfil their academic potential,” Smith suggests.

“Several alumni also described higher education as the first opportunity to express their Indigenous identity in an educational setting.”

Leila Smith is CEO of Aurora, which is walking with students from high school through to university and the workplace, redefining Indigenous educational and employment success as it goes. 

Despite finding high school challenging, particularly with ongoing examples of racism and its harmful effects, these alumni have excelled at some of the world’s leading universities, Smith explains.

Encouragingly, the report found that with the support of RISE, there has been a 116 per cent increase in the proportion of students who know about their Indigenous family history and culture.

“Strengthening cultural knowledge and Indigenous identity is a huge component of RISE,” Smith says.

“We know that when students feel strong in their culture and backed by their 65,000-year history on this continent, they are more confident to take on new things, dream big and feel supported by their community."

Recent research by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation found that connection to culture, language and heritage was a key driver behind obtaining higher school certificates.

The study explained that students who felt good about their culture and were supported were more likely to aspire to complete their HSC, for example.

Data in the report relating to parent and carer engagement found a 176 per cent increase in the proportion of parents and carers who spoke to their child daily about work and study plans, and a 28 per cent increase in the proportion of parents and carers who understood the subjects their child needed to take to go to university.

“Students participating in RISE are supported to develop their Indigenous identity by participating in Cultural Immersion and Family Engagement days, where they are able to build relationships with Elders, their community, peers and Indigenous mentors,” Smith continues.

“The feedback we have had from these events has been really positive, with many families stating that both their child’s attitude to school and academic outcomes had improved as a result.”

Smith says she’s ‘incredibly proud’ to have launched Aurora’s inaugural RISE Impact Report, as the organisation works to redefine Indigenous success in education and show what is possible when decisions about Indigenous people and communities are Indigenous-led and governed.

“Through this report, we’re not just showing what is possible, we’re also showing how it can be possible, and this has huge ramifications for decision makers in government and education,” Smith says.

“Importantly, this report shows what we’ve been saying at Aurora for years – the potential of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people is limitless.

“I’m excited about the continued impact of this initiative over the coming years.”  

For more information on RISE, click here. To learn more about Auroroa Education Foundation, click here, and to view the 2024 RISE Impact Report, click here.