Indigenous education in Australia has made little or no headway since NAPLAN testing began in 2008. The number of Indigenous students failing NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests is increasing and will not meet COAG targets for many more decades.
Our latest report, Indigenous Education 2012, shows that while the majority of Indigenous students in Australia are performing well, the significant minority who are failing come from either low socio-economic backgrounds and attend under-performing mainstream schools, or attend Indigenous schools.
We know that children from welfare-dependent backgrounds are subjected to a family life that lacks the routine found in non-welfare dependent families. Children who witness their parents staying at home and not working have less to aspire to, compared to regular families with a working mother and father.
Chris Sarra has shown how the critical role of low expectations in Indigenous educational failure is fuelled not only by students themselves but also by their parents, teachers and schools. With 40% of Indigenous students coming from welfare-dependent families, it is clear that welfare dependency plays a role in the poor NAPLAN results.
Even more of a problem are the under-performing mainstream schools, which have high failure rates for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. About 40,000 Indigenous students attend these poorly performing schools. Their performance, like those of the poorly performing non-Indigenous students, is linked to the substandard education they receive at these ‘residualised’ schools.
Indigenous schools (schools where more than 75% of students are Indigenous), however, are some of the worst performing schools in Australia. About 20,000 students attend these schools, and only a handful of them are attaining mainstream education outcomes. Poorly performing schools are subjugating our young to a less-than-average education. This robs them of future opportunities and means the cycle of welfare dependency is likely to continue.
At this rate, on Australia’s education ministers’ timetable, Indigenous children will not achieve the same education outcomes as other Australian children until 2028. This is unacceptable. Indigenous children deserve the same standard of education as their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Government needs to respond to these results by bringing non-performing and under-performing schools up to speed within the decade. Giving principals greater autonomy in hiring and managing staff and doing away with programs they see as unproductive would contribute greatly to improved educational outcomes.
Emeritus Professor Hughes is a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and Mark Hughes is an independent researcher. Their new report, Indigenous Education 2012, is available at www.cis.org.au.