By Eric Garneau
According to data reported in The Australian, attendance rates at indigenous schools across Australia have recently taken significant dives. Particularly, schools across the southern territories reported attendance from 77% to as low as 58%. That data indicates drops of 7-15% from the last time it was measured.
In fact, the attendance problem isn't limited to indigenous schools. Adelaide Now shared further government data which showed that 50 Australian schools have a non-attendance rate of greater than 13%. Nationwide, Australian schools typically average three percent non-attendance. However, officials consider any school with non-attendance greater than ten percent a significant problem.
Indigenous schools lack in more than attendance. According to an Australian article from April 2010, 40% of Australia's indigenous students don't meet minimum national education standards. Even many of those who graduate from their schools can't write, read or even count. Ninth-year students in many such institutions have abilities equivalent to average third-year learners, and few close that gap.
However, that disparity only exists in indigenous students who go to schools in their native territories. Much of the nation's indigenous population attend the same schools and meet the same standards as their non-indigenous peers. The problem seems not to lay with the students, but with the institutions available to them.
Several plans have been proposed to mend problems facing indigenous education. Officials have recommended surveying indigenous lands to ensure all appropriately aged children attend school. However, putting that into practice is no easy task, especially given the high mobility of indigenous families that often leads to low attendance in the first place.
Julia Gillard, Australia's Education Minister, has designed a new national curriculum with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy to be implemented this year. Installing that curriculum in indigenous schools takes significant work, though, especially given a lack of qualified teachers in those regions. According to the Australian government's website, they hope to halve the gap in achievement rates of year 12 indigenous students by 2020. Clearly any fixes here must be long-term, but a nationwide emphasis on literacy seems like a solid foundation.