Student accepts challenge to close the gap through education

Student Tarni Rigney. Changing the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children through education is the goal of Aboriginal student Tarni Rigney who starts a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at the University of South Australia next week.

Tarni starts her education journey just days after the release of the Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap report, which revealed Australia is failing to meet key targets in Indigenous health, education and employment outcomes. She hopes to be part of the generation that will turn those figures around. 

“I want to use my career to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a platform to succeed,” Tarni says.

“My desire to study education was inspired by a trip to India last year to volunteer in schools and facilities with poor and disabled children. India is where I experienced the gift of community service, the power of schooling and the liberation education gives vulnerable communities.

“This experience was so profound it left me with an overwhelming sense of commitment to teaching as a career.”

Tarni comes from a family of distinguished Aboriginal educators. Her grandmother, Dr Alice Rigney, is an Honorary Doctor at UniSA and was Australia’s first female Aboriginal School Principal while her father, Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney is an award-winning Indigenous educator based at UniSA’s School of Education.

Tarni says following in the footsteps of her pioneering family members is a no-brainer.

“My grandmother and father have contributed a lasting legacy in the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” she says.

“Their ground-breaking work was further inspiration for me to study education – and together with my aunty, they have all completed education degrees at UniSA. I want to honour that tradition.”

While her family history will stand Tarni in good stead, her focus is very much on the future.  

“I want to change the poor schooling outcomes and current numeracy and literacy levels of Aboriginal children,” she says.

“Aboriginal students face a number of challenges. I want to be part of the support system that helps them through those highs and lows and instils in them a strong drive to achieve their goals, even when others doubt their abilities, as that is the formula for success.”

A report released earlier this month by the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI) – a national five-year program headquartered at UniSA that concluded in 2016 – reaffirms that education students like Tarni will be play a critical role in closing the gap.

The report, which recommends increasing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education workforce from 1.2 per cent to closer to five per cent to reflect the percentage of Aboriginal students in Australian schools, states that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students ‘cannot be what they cannot see’.

To download the full MATSITI report, go to

Media contact Rosanna Galvin office (08) 8302 0578  mobile 0434 603 457  email


Areas of study and research

+ Click to minimise