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, along 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. The poor educational outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 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 2011, 76% of Indigenous students met the Year 3 national minimum standard in reading, 66% in Year 5, 77% in Year 7 and 72% in Year 9. Around 80% of Indigenous students met the national minimum standard for writing in Year 3, 69% in Year 5, 67% in Year 7 and 55% in Year 9. Around 84% of Indigenous students met the national minimum standard for numeracy in Year 3, 75% in Year 5, 77% in Year 7 and 72% in Year 9. Around 72% of Indigenous students met the national minimum standard for spelling in Year 3, 69% in Year 5, 74% in Year 7 and 72% in Year 9. Around 71% of Indigenous students in Year 3 met the national minimum standard for grammar and punctuation, 64% in Year 5, 67% in Year 7 and 61% in Year 9. The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving the national minimum standards for each of these areas in all school years tested remain below corresponding proportions for all students.
Data for this report have been based on the annual NAPLAN results for 2008 to 2011. 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 2011 there were mixed results. For reading, there was a slight reduction in the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. For numeracy, there were reductions in the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous achievement for Years 3, 5 and 9 but an increase in the gap for Year 7 in 2011.
Proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving literacy and numeracy benchmarks remain lower for students living in remote and very remote areas. This relationship was also evident for non-Indigenous students, but was much less marked. Despite these results, some progress has been made, with the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Year 3 students at or above the minimum standard for reading decreasing in remote and very remote areas over the period 2008–11. There are large differences between jurisdictions in levels of achievement for Indigenous students, although the variation in the proportions of students from remote and very remote regions significantly impacts these results.
The 2008 NATSISS found that approximately 8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Years 3, 5 and 7 reported being bullied at school because they were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.Top of page
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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students will be to improve access to early childhood education opportunities. Fewer Indigenous Australian children attend a pre-school, and so are less school-ready than children who have attended a pre-school. In 2008, 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 high 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 2008). Attendance rates are associated with academic performance (Australian Council for Educational Research 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 six years to improve outcomes for Indigenous children in the early years. Under the COAG National Education Agreement several partnership agreements have been developed. The National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy has provided $540 million for improving literacy and numeracy outcomes for all Australian students, particularly those who are at risk of falling behind. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010–2014 involves government and non-government education providers in actions to achieve the education-related close the gap targets. The Closing the Gap—Expanding Intensive Literacy and Numeracy for Indigenous Students and Personalised Learning Plans is providing $56.4 million over four years to expand programs that have been successful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Eleven projects have been completed and 23 projects are being implemented from 2011 to 2012 to improve the literacy and numeracy outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. On completion, the projects will be encouraged to contribute their findings to Teach, Learn, Share—a national evidence base of literacy and numeracy teaching strategies.Top of page
Indigenous Parenting Support Services are funded through the Australian Government's Family Support Program to help Indigenous parents achieve and maintain strong family relationships and to provide support through transitions to child care, preschool and primary school. From 2012–13, the Australian Government will also provide $55.7 million over four years to ensure Australia's most vulnerable children are better prepared to start school by expanding the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters to 100 communities across Australia, including 50 new communities, with an emphasis on Indigenous Australians. This builds on the Government's original commitment of $32.5 million over six years (2008–13) to roll out the program to 50 communities nationally.
The Australian Government is providing significant funding to states and territories through the Smarter Schools National Partnerships for Literacy and Numeracy and Low Socio-Economic Status School Communities to support reform activities in over 2600 schools. Approximately 60 per cent of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are enrolled in schools that will benefit from these programs and/or being identified as a Focus School under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan
Figure 90—Proportion of Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students at or above the reading, writing, numeracy, spelling and grammar and punctuation national minimum standards, by Indigenous status, 2011
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Source: MCEECDYA 2011Top of page
Figure 91—Proportion of Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students at or above the reading, writing and numeracy minimum standards, by remoteness area and Indigenous status, 2011
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Source: MCEECDYA 2011Top of page
Figure 92—Proportion of Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students at or above the national minimum standards for reading and numeracy, by Indigenous status, 2008–11 and trajectory to COAG target
Source: MCEECDYA 2011Top of page