It was disappointing not to see any new initiatives in the budget for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, to address the severe deficits experienced in both NAPLAN results and NAPLAN attendance. In fact, the targets for indigenous students remain the same, and have remained the same for the last 5 years, on average 66 points behind that of their non-indigenous peers. As I have said previously, this government is not interested in closing the gap on underachievement for the indigenous community – but in maintaining the status quo.
I note with interest that the South Australian government announced an additional 67.5 million dollars in their budget to help lift literacy and numeracy results for public school students. The intervention funds are dedicated to students not achieving expected standards. What could be achieved here in the ACT if the government would support programs with a funding boost such as this?
Programs could thrive on such funding. Programs such as the Indigenous education centre being opened at Campbell High, but it would appear with no additional funds. A program which includes the employment of two early career Aboriginal educators.
The program also includes developing cultural awareness in the students throughout the school. This we know can make a difference in overcome racism, which continues to play a major role in poor educational outcomes for indigenous children.
But the program is more than that. Drawing on existing research, the program will target engagement and attendance as two key steps to improving the learning outcomes of indigenous students. Many of whom lag the equivalent of two years of learning.
This is where the funding focus should be for this government, supporting programs which will increase engagement and attendance – both at schools and at NAPLAN. And supporting programs which will impact directly on closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous students.
It is appalling that all the Director-general could say, when asked why they lagged in NAPLAN results, that it was a good question! Her further response that there isn’t any research, is insulting to the many researchers who have spent the last forty years, both understanding the problem and working on solutions.
I refer the Minister and her Directorate to the 2016 paper produced by the Productivity Commission on Indigenous Primary School Achievement, which will provide them with an excellent overview of the research available, successes and failures, across Australia. Including the ACT. The report includes a detailed timeline of the many state and territory reviews which have been conducted over the past 40 years.
Yes, it is a complex area, but there really is no excuse for the response. Especially in the light of the University of Canberra’s Chris Sarra’s subsequent comments that the outcomes could be turned around quickly. That is, according to Dr. Sarra, if the education department decided to do what is needed!
We therefore call on the government to consider funding further initiatives to closing the gap in educational outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous students.
We agree with the Estimates Committee recommendations that the ACT government set clear targets on closing the gap, in percentage points, for each year of NAPLAN and report on those targets.