Educational Outcomes of Young Indigenous Australians
Research funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University has found that while there are substantial differences between the academic performance at age 15 of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, there is no significant difference between subsequent educational outcomes.
The study, funded through the NCSEHE’s Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program and undertaken by researchers at the National Institute of Labour Studies (NILS) at Flinders University, tracked educational outcomes in two cohorts of students from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY), in 2006 and 2009, the first year when a full comparison can be made.
Professor Kostas Mavromaras, Director of NILS, said that improved educational outcomes are seen as 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.
“There are substantial differences between the academic performance at age 15 of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Part of this difference can be attributed to differences in socio-economic status and other background variables, and to differences in schools which Indigenous students attend. However, a sizable gap remains between the academic performance at age 15 of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students which is not explained by these factors,” Professor Mavromaras said.
“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.”
“Once we control for background characteristics of the students, there is only a modest improvement in the academic performance of Indigenous students at age 15 between the 2006 and the 2009 cohorts.”
The research found that current programs over the latter years of secondary school have been successful at ensuring that Indigenous students do not suffer further disadvantage relative to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
“However, the same programs have been largely ineffective in remediating earlier disadvantage,” Professor Mavromaras said.
“It is therefore most effective to direct effort in addressing Indigenous educational disadvantage before the final years of schooling.”
“If the performance of Indigenous students at age 15 could be increased to that of their non-Indigenous counterparts there will be a 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.”
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad emphasised the importance of education in addressing social inequality and endorsed the need to intervene early in a child’s education to prevent educational disadvantage.
“Indigenous people remain the most educationally disadvantaged group in Australia. 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. 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. If educational disadvantage can be avoided then students develop confidence in their learning ability, which carries through into subsequent education and adult life.”
“I welcome this research from the National Institute of Labour Studies and look forward to discussion on the policy implications of the findings.”
The report, titled Educational Outcomes of Young Indigenous Australians, was released today.