Improving the education standards of Indigenous school children in remote parts of Australia is “not a mystery” and can “start now”, according to an Australian Catholic University researcher.
Across Australia, school attendance rates are 82.3 per cent for Indigenous students and 92.5 per cent for non-Indigenous students, representing a gap of 10.2 percentage points, according to Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority figures.
The education gap is most prominent in very remote areas where the attendance rate for Indigenous students drops to about 65 per cent.
Anthony Dillon. a researcher at Australian Catholic University (ACU) Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, said it was time for the “top-down” and “city-led” approaches to end.
“Everyone agrees that education is the key to progress. We don’t need more reports telling us this – we need action,” said Dr Dillon.
He said educators and policymakers should immediately tap into the rich experience of community elders and leaders if we are to see greater school engagement in remote communities.
“An understanding of the uniqueness of the Indigenous culture in question is paramount in remote communities. School staff need to employ and work with locals to understand this local culture,” Dr Dillon said.
“The school principals and teachers also have an incredible depth of work knowledge. These educators need to be considered as experts and treated as such.”
Dr Dillon recommended a two-pronged approach to addressing school attendance rate, focusing on issues inside the school gate (such as hiring good teachers who are supported by mentors) and outside the school gate (including community cohesion and employment opportunities for parents).
“Teaching in a remote community can be incredibly rewarding, but it does also carry challenges,:” Dr Dillon said.
“This is why it’s important for new teachers to be well-supported, receive peer mentoring, and be given opportunities to learn about local culture”.
“In addition to any program for improving school attendance and engagement should be programs that empower and support the parents.”