Ayan Macuach wants to be the first in her family to go to university, but she’s had to fight hard to get an opportunity.
Unlike many Year 12 students who got their ATAR scores on Friday, the Sudanese refugee who arrived in Australia in 2004 said she was asked by her school not to do the tertiary entrance exams.
“In Year 10 my coordinator asked me ‘What are your goals?’ I said I want to go to university,” 18-year-old Ayan said.
“She told me VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) was perfect for me. Do VCAL.”
When the school called Ayan’s mother to discuss the idea, she was determined her daughter should complete VCE.
The teenager’s tutor, Cressida Crossley, said she was also asked to convince Ayan not to do VCE.
“There were people in the school who told me she would never do Year 12. She wouldn’t pass VCE English,” Ms Crossley said.
“She’s going to university. She’s done amazing things.”
Ayan is hoping to study criminology through La Trobe University’s Aspire program for students from a disadvantaged background, or legal studies at RMIT.
Both can be pathways to studying law.
She also has a Smith Family tertiary scholarship, which gives her financial support and a mentor to help her at university.
Ayan’s school denies it asked her not to sit the tertiary entrance exams.
The principal of Fitzroy’s Academy of Mary Immaculate, Sister Mary Moloney, said a formal meeting would have been held with the student, her parents, the careers counsellor and teachers to discuss her future options.
“No such meeting took place with Ayan and her family. Ultimately the college would not force a student to undertake a non-scored VCE,” she said.
Sister Mary said the school worked hard to find pathways for all its students.
Last year all of the school’s Year 12 students received a first-round offer.
Many schools encourage low-performing students to do an unscored VCE to reduce stress on a student and help keep them at school.
In Victoria in 2015, 3.5 per cent, or 1,747 students, received no study scores and did not get an ATAR.
About 30 per cent of those students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Some are refugees like Ayan and others are from non-English speaking backgrounds.
‘We’re singled out’
Ayan said she and other African students felt like they were treated differently to other students.
Early this year, Ayan and a Sudanese friend said they were sent home from school for wearing a nose stud. She said other students who also had nose rings were not sent home.
“I asked why everyone else with a nose piercing wasn’t being sent home but the two of us are?” she said.
“They had a clear one and it just looked normal but for us a clear one is still shiny, it’s not my fault I’m dark-skinned.
“Some teachers told me to hide it, put a band-aid and make-up on.
“Every day when I go to school I fear that I am going to get into trouble or get picked on for no reason by the teachers.”
Sister Mary said students were allowed only one piercing, and not in the nose.
She said dozens of students had been sent home with nose rings and denied Ayan was treated differently.
Role model who ‘can’t keep quiet’
Ayan said she had wanted to be a lawyer since she did a work experience program run by Melbourne lawyers Lander & Rogers.
Community engagement consultant Mary Stephen established the program to inspire refugee students, and said Ayan was a standout when she did the program.
“She really got a lot out of it. She came every day, very geared up about doing law,” Ms Stephen said.
“The press has been very negative about the South Sudanese. It’s very tough.
“The program is designed to be work inspiration. It makes them feel it’s a world they can belong to. It’s not remote and out of their league. Ayan is one of our great successes.”
Ayan came to Australia from South Sudan in 2004 and has five brothers and sisters.
“My mum wants me to be a role model for my younger siblings and go to university. I could help people understand not all Sudanese are bad,” she said.
“We are the kids who are asked for our Mykis [payment cards] on the tram, who are questioned in shops when we go to browse and we are the girls who are stopped at night by the police when we walk down the street.
“We are getting treated unfairly all the time. I just can’t keep quiet.”