Improved educational outcomes are a key lever for addressing the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians but poor outcomes have been observed at all levels of education, from early childhood through to tertiary education, says the Educational Outcomes of Young Indigenous Australians report compiled by Flinders University’s National Institute of Labour Studies (NILS).
“A big gap remains between the academic performance at age 15 of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students which is not explained by differences in socio-economic status and other background variables,” says NILS director Professor Kostas Mavromaras, confirming that addressing education disadvantage at early ages remains the best option.
“We find that the greatest scope for improvement in educational outcomes for Indigenous students post-school comes from improved educational performance during the early and middle levels of school,” says Professor Mavromaras.
After accounting for academic performance at age 15, there is no significant difference between subsequent educational outcomes, he says.
While the research found that current programs covering the later years of secondary school have largely been successful in ensuring that Indigenous students do not suffer further disadvantage relative to their non-Indigenous counterparts, they don’t reverse earlier barriers.
“However, the same programs have been largely ineffective in reducing earlier disadvantage,” says Professor Mavromaras.
“It is therefore most effective to direct efforts in reducing Indigenous educational disadvantage before the final years of schooling.
“Improvement in the performance of Indigenous students by age 15 would lead to significant flow through to improved educational outcomes: a reduction in the drop-out rate, an increase in the proportion requesting an ATAR, and an increase in the proportion participating at University immediately after leaving school.”
The study tracked educational outcomes in two intakes of students, in 2006 and 2009, under the national Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth, which included 14,000 students at 350 schools and followed them through to their respective school completions in 2009-10 and in 2012-13.
The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) research study can be viewed online at https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/publications/educational-outcomes-of-young-indigenous-australians/
The report was compiled by researchers at the National Institute of Labour Studies (NILS) at Flinders University with funding from the NCSEHE Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program.
The study found that there was a modest improvement in the academic performance of the 2009 Indigenous student intake, suggesting a possible mid-term improvement.
However, NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad says the progress has been slow and Indigenous students continue to be among the most disadvantaged in our education systems.
“While there have been some improvements over recent decades, they have occurred against a background of a general increase in education in the wider community,” she says.
“Progress in closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians which occur at every stage of education has been slow and we must continue our efforts, and be prepared to learn from past policies and programs.”
Intervening early in the education of disadvantaged students means they can be assisted when problems emerge, Professor Trinidad says.
“If educational disadvantage can be avoided then students develop confidence in their learning ability, which carries through into subsequent education and adult life.”
Professor Trinidad says the report will help to shape future policy, adding: “Indigenous people are entitled to a life of opportunity, the same as the rest of society. Access to higher education is key to ensuring that Indigenous people live their lives free from disadvantage.”
The size of the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous in education performance focused on tracking two high school intakes, in 2006 and 2009, through to the end of compulsory education as captured by academic performance at age 15 from the Programme for International Assessment (PISA). After modelling PISA scores, subsequent educational outcomes included school dropout and Year 12 completion, intention to attend university, ATAR request, university participation and vocational education training participation
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