Why is it important?:Education is a key factor for improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Access to education is an important determinant of health and links with other social factors such as poverty, unemployment, quality of housing and access to primary health services. Furthermore, there is a two-way association between health and education. People who have low educational attainment tend to have poorer health, fewer opportunities, low incomes and lower employment prospects (Johnston et al. 2009). In turn, poorer health is associated with lower educational attainment, impacting unfavourably upon income and employment (Conti et al. 2010).
Early educational experiences are important as they influence future academic performance (Frigo et al. 2003; SCRGSP 2007). Students who do not attain the national literacy and numeracy benchmark standards, for example, will have difficulty progressing through school and are less likely to enter higher education. Furthermore, school leavers who lack fundamental skills in literacy and numeracy face lower employment prospects. Poor educational outcomes of Indigenous Australian students apparent in upper primary/lower secondary school are symptomatic of inadequate educational progress in the early years of schooling (Frigo et al. 2003). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary school students have considerably lower literacy and numeracy attainment than non-Indigenous students. Improvements in this area are crucial to the achievement of headline educational outcomes such as Years 10 and 12 retention and attainment (See measure 2.05).
In December 2007, COAG agreed to a target of halving the gap between the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students achieving reading, writing and numeracy benchmarks within a decade.
Findings:In 2009, 75% of Indigenous students achieved the Year 3 benchmark in reading, 67% in Year 5, 73% in Year 7 and 67% in Year 9. Around 80% of Indigenous students achieved the writing benchmark in Year 3, 70% in each of Years 5 and 7 and 59% in Year 9. In each of these Year levels in 2009, around 75% achieved numeracy benchmark standards. The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving the standards for each of the benchmarks in all school years tested remain below corresponding proportions for all students, including for spelling and punctuation, and grammar.
Data for this report have been based on the NAPLAN results for 2008 and 2009. It is important to note that trends in results for Indigenous students will be impacted by changes in the levels of participation in NAPLAN. Participation rates are generally lower for Indigenous students, particularly in jurisdictions with more people living in remote areas. It is also important to note that small increases or decreases may not be statistically significant. Between 2008 and 2009 there were mixed results. For reading, there was a slight reduction in the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students for Years 3, 5 and 7 and a slight increase for Year 9. For writing there was a slight narrowing of the gap in Years 3, 5 and 7 and a slight increase for Year 9. For numeracy, there were declines in the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous achievement for Years 5 and 9 but increases in the gap for Years 3 and 7.
Proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving literacy and numeracy benchmarks are much lower for students living in remote and very remote areas. This relationship was evident also for non-Indigenous students, but was much less marked.
There are significant differences between jurisdictions in levels of achievement for Indigenous students, although the proportions of students from remote and very remote regions significantly impacts jurisdictional level results.
Implications:To achieve the goals set by COAG, significant improvements will need to be achieved. All governments have made commitments to a broad range of initiatives to address existing educational disadvantages.
An important step in improving the achievement of Indigenous students will be to improve access to early childhood education opportunities. Fewer Indigenous Australian children have the opportunity to attend a pre-school, and so are less school-ready than children who have attended pre-schools. COAG has agreed that within five years all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 4 year olds in remote Indigenous communities will have access to a quality early childhood education program. Harnessing strong networks both at home and through involvement with the education system is fundamental to supporting educational participation and attainment (NATSIHC 2008a). Attendance rates are associated with academic performance (ACER 2004; Fred Hollows Foundation 2006; Zubrick et al. 2006). It is evident from the data that geographic remoteness is associated with much higher levels of disadvantage in achievement of educational benchmarks.
Educational disadvantages have many associations with people’s health and health risk factors. Indigenous students at high risk of clinically significant emotional and behavioural difficulties are less likely to achieve academic milestones (Zubrick et al. 2006). Child hearing loss (see measure 1.12) will also impact on academic achievement. A longitudinal multi-school study conducted by Australian Council for Education Research (ACER 2004) found that a school’s ability to adapt to the needs of Indigenous students accounted for much of the variation in academic outcomes by the students.
COAG has agreed to several reforms in education including the National Early Childhood Development Strategy which seeks to achieve positive early childhood development outcomes and to reduce inequalities. The National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development commits $564 million over 6 years to improve outcomes for Indigenous children in the early years. Under the COAG National Education Agreement several partnership agreements have been developed including the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy, which commits $540 million for improving literacy and numeracy outcomes for all Australian students, particularly those who are at risk of falling behind. The Indigenous Education Action Plan 2010–2014 involves government and non-government education providers in actions to achieve the education-related close the gap targets. The Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 provides the legislative basis for a variety of Indigenous education and training programs, including the National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. The Government has also committed $56.4 million over 4 years (2008–12) to the Closing the Gap—Expansion of Intensive Literacy and Numeracy Programs and Personalised Learning Plans which is designed to expand programs that have been successful for Indigenous students.
Table 41 – Proportion of students achieving reading, writing and numeracy benchmarks, by Indigenous status, 2008–2009
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students|
Figure 76 – Proportion of Indigenous students achieving literacy and numeracy benchmarks to corresponding proportion of all students, 2009
Source: National Report on Schooling in Australia 2008 (MCEETYA 2009) and the 2009 National assessment program: Literacy and Numeracy (ACARA 2009)
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Figure 77 – Proportion of Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students achieving the reading, writing and numeracy benchmarks, by remoteness area and Indigenous status, 2009
Source: AIHW analysis of the 2009 National assessment program: Literacy and Numeracy (ACARA 2009)
Text description of figure 77 (TXT 1KB)