NRL star closing gap on Indigenous education

June 7, 2022

Brisbane Broncos player and Bond University MBA student Ryan James has leveraged his burgeoning business career to expand an early learning program for Indigenous children.

A $77,000 donation from Hough Pharma will allow an extra 24 children to attend the Kalwun Early Learning Program at its Burleigh and Coomera centres on the Gold Coast.

The free program for kids aged three to five smooths their transition to school while strengthening cultural identity.

The cash injection came after Mr James’ Ryan James Group partnered with Hough Pharma on a new enterprise, Minjungbal Medical Supply.

Mr James said he saw the value of the Kalwun program when his sons attended classes.

“It really helps the kids transition from home care or daycare to Prep because they’re in a uniform and they get to see what it’s like to be at school,” Mr James said.

“It made it so much easier for my eldest son to start at a school where he didn’t know anyone.

“He felt strong in who he is as a person and as an Aboriginal kid.”

Mr James said the program was closing the gap in educational outcomes for Indigenous children and hoped it would attract further financial support and expand beyond the Gold Coast.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it could move the needle,” he said.

“I’d invite anyone in government to come have a look in six months and see the social outcomes that we're going to produce.”

Mr James is studying at Bond University on an ADCO Sports Excellence Scholarship.

“With all the businesses I’m looking at setting up to further myself and the foundation it was a no brainer to go back and study,” he said.

“I think I was the first Indigenous rugby league player to get an undergrad during my playing career, so I want to try and be the first to get a masters as well.”

Kalwun Development Corporation CEO Kieran Chilcott said feedback from schools was that the program was succeeding.

“We prepare the kids for school and ground them in culture but we’re also able to identify quite early on if they need any extra support from a health or behavioural perspective,” he said.

“We help parents navigate the school system and the children getting better educational outcomes as a result.”

Mr Chilcott said the program’s expansion into Coomera was vital as the suburb had one of the fastest growing Aboriginal populations in Australia.

Hough Pharma director Jackson Hough said the company, one of the first to import Covid-19 rapid antigen tests into Australia, had a strong focus on community.

Mr Hough said the company’s new venture with Ryan James Group would supply rapid tests for Covid and other illnesses to Indigenous communities.