A 'formidable challenge': Australia's quest for equity in indigenous education.
Article Type:
Australian aborigines (Education)
Education and state (Management)
Educational equalization (Demographic aspects)
Gray, Jan
Beresford, Quentin
Pub Date:
Name: Australian Journal of Education Publisher: Australian Council for Educational Research Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Australian Council for Educational Research ISSN: 0004-9441
Date: August, 2008 Source Volume: 52 Source Issue: 2
Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 970 Government domestic functions Computer Subject: Company business management
Product Code: 9105110 Education Programs NAICS Code: 92311 Administration of Education Programs
Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Name: Australia; Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Indigenous education in Australia has been the subject of ongoing policy focus and repeated official inquiry as the nation grapples with trying to achieve equity for these students. Perspectives from recent developments in the USA and Canada highlight the similarity of challenges. The article employs a multidisciplinary approach to social theory to examine the underlying causes of the creation of a plateau effect of progress in this area. The article argues that the lack of progress is a reflection of a complex set of underlying factors, many of which are under acknowledged in educational debates. Arising from this examination is the need for a new governance model for Indigenous education involving both horizontal and vertical policy-making structures.


Aboriginal education policy formation Aboriginal students Aboriginal history policy analysis race


Australia 'discovered' the problem of profound educational disadvantage among its Indigenous people in the late 1960s. The disadvantage was evident in the high rates of educational failure among the first generation of Indigenous students to attend state schools, after generations of government policies aimed variously at their segregation and marginalisation.

Since the late 1960s, official concern at the continuing poor outcomes for Indigenous students has seen a wave of government-appointed inquiries into the failures of the education system to generate improved outcomes. In the 2005 commissioned government report, Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage, the Chair observed:

As the quote testifies--confirmed in a raft of official and academic studies--the experience of educational reform for Australia's Indigenous students has been one largely, although not exclusively, of failure. The benchmark for this under performance is the 1989 Commonwealth-State National Aboriginal Education Policy (the first of its kind), which set a target of the year 2000 for achieving equity. While steady, but slow, improvements have been made since the inception of the policy, the goal of equity in outcomes remains a distant one. In light of these difficulties, two key questions inform this article: Why has only slow progress been achieved? Why does this progress appear to have created a plateau effect?

To examine these questions, we conceptualise and theorise the nature of change in Indigenous education by applying social theory to illuminate the complex interactions between Indigenous people and the broader Australian society within which the dynamics of educational disadvantage operate. We employ a multidisciplinary approach to social theory, drawing upon perspectives from history, education, public policy and public administration in our attempt to fully grasp the complexity of the reasons behind the current slow rates of progress. We also hypothesise possible paths to achieving more rapid progress to equity. (This article builds upon earlier research: see Beresford, 2003; Beresford & Gray, 2006.)

Australia's Indigenous population

Australia's current Indigenous population is approximately 400 000 people, or 2 per cent of the population, of whom 70 per cent are under 25 years of age (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005). Indigenous people live in a variety of settings including major urban locations (around 30 per cent), in rural towns with fewer than 10 000 inhabitants (42 per cent) and 28 per cent in remote areas. Diversity is further underpinned by the degree of dispossession from land and the impact of successive government policies since white 'settlement' in 1788. One of the implications of this diversity for education is the inapplicability of universal solutions or programs.

While there is evidence of a growing middle class among urban Indigenous people, socio-economic disadvantage continues to characterise a large number of Indigenous people, including high rates of unemployment, mortality and morbidity, overcrowding and imprisonment. This is particularly evident in rural and remote locations and in any urban and peri-urban settings where very high levels of disadvantage are common. Some relevant socio-economic data include the following (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2005):

* Life expectancy in the Indigenous population is 17.2 years less than the total Australian population.

* The age-standardised unemployment rate was 3.2 per cent higher for Indigenous than for non-Indigenous people.

* Mean gross weekly household income was at least $200 less for Indigenous than for non-Indigenous people.

* The proportion of Indigenous people living in homes that someone in their household owned or was purchasing was 27 per cent compared to 74 per cent for non-Indigenous people.

* Suicide rates are much higher for Indigenous people (between 12 and 36 deaths per 100 000 people) than other people (between 11 and 16 deaths per 100 000 people).

In fact, one study suggests that by comparison to Indigenous people in the USA, Canada and New Zealand, Australia's Indigenous population has the worst overall rates of socio-economic disadvantage (Kaufman, 2003).

Current educational outcomes for Australian Indigenous youth

Progress in educational outcomes reported in a 2005 government report (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2005) shows mixed success over the last decade: some slow improvement coupled with disturbing contraction of key outcomes. For example, it was reported that in the last decade there was improvement in these areas:

* the proportion of Indigenous children commencing Year 1

* Year 3 reading and writing benchmark data

* participation in post-secondary education participation and achievement

* the proportion of Indigenous adults attaining post-secondary vocational education certificates.

Despite these improvements, the disparity between equivalent outcomes for non-Indigenous students remains stark. In fact, rather than the exponential growth in engagement and success expected from the substantial government expenditure on Indigenous education in the last decade, a plateau effect is now evident. After an initial burst of improvement in retention, attendance and academic achievement from the 1980s to the 1990s, improvement has settled into a pattern of small, incremental steps in all measures of educational outcomes. Rarely does the full complement of data relating to Indigenous school performance find its way into the public discourse. This is particularly apparent in relation to official inquiries, which rely on a more restricted range and interpretation of data. For example, data from independent or private schools--which are not so publicly accountable and do not attract much public attention in relation to educational outcomes for their Indigenous students--is usually inaccessible and not necessarily part of the data set informing policy, despite anecdotal evidence of successful strategies and outcomes.

The discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Australia is most apparent in relation to school completion and progression to higher education. The challenge of improving educational outcomes for Indigenous young people can be examined using three outcome measures: national school retention, school attendance, and benchmark data.

School retention

The proportion of Indigenous students who complete 12 years of schooling has trebled in the last 17 years, from 13 per cent in 1987 to 39 per cent in 2004. The census data from 1996-2004 in Table 1 illustrates this steady increase. The trend is particularly evident when considering retention to Year 11 level, where the apparent retention rate from Year 7/8 rose from 47 per cent in 1996 to 61 per cent in 2004.

But, when considering the increased retention for Indigenous students in relation to the non-Indigenous student population, the discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous participation and retention across Australia remains stark. As outlined in Table 2 summarising Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 1996 to 2004 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004, 2005) the gap becomes most apparent when considering secondary school data.

More importantly, although the retention rates for Indigenous students have improved over the last decade, a substantial gap remains.

The National Report to Parliament on Indigenous Education and Training (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2004, p. xvii) reports that:

* indigenous students are less likely to obtain a Year 12 certificate than non-Indigenous students

* of those who do obtain a Year 12 certificate, Indigenous students are less likely to gain a Universities Admission Index (UAI)

* of those who obtain a UAI, Indigenous students are less likely to gain a UAI of high level, or of a level which will enable admission to university, and

* Indigenous students are more likely than non-Indigenous students to choose a pathway leading to a post-school low-level vocational educational qualification rather than further academic qualifications.

The disparity in educational involvement continues beyond secondary school and training. Disproportionately few Aboriginal students enrol in tertiary education, and even fewer graduate. Indigenous students represent 1.2 per cent of domestic higher-education students, although they compose 2.5 per cent of the national population (James & Devlin, 2006, p. 16). Fewer than half of the Indigenous students who enrol in higher education complete their degree (James & Devlin, 2006, p. 20). While about 25 per cent of Australians hold university degrees, only 1.3 per cent of Australian Aborigines do so (Hickling-Hudson & Ahlquist, 2003, p. 69). Post-secondary attainment, the completion rate for Aboriginal tertiary students decreases significantly for those who either come from or undertake study in remote rural areas (Ainsworth & Hansen, 2006; Cotton, 1984).

School attendance

For students to achieve the expected outcomes of schooling, regular attendance is essential, as emphasised in the recent PISA report (Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), 2007). This is of particular importance in the Australian education systems given the current premise that incremental growth is dependent on a linear trajectory, sustained by regular attendance and maximum time on task (Collins, 1999). Bourke and colleagues (2000) report that teachers believe school attendance is essential for educational success. Mellor and Corrigan (2004) emphasise the critical role of regular school attendance in improving educational outcomes for Indigenous students:

Indigenous students in Australia attend school less frequently than the rest of the student population. In the course of their school careers, on average, they spend at least two fewer years at school than non-Indigenous students. In addition, they are more likely to leave school early (Mellor & Corrigan, 2004; Partington et al., in press; Ross & Gray, 2005). In 1998 the apparent national retention rate for

Indigenous Australians for Years 7-12 was 32.1 per cent, less than half the rate (72.7 per cent) achieved by other Australians, with Indigenous males having poorer retention and participation rates than Indigenous females (Lamb et al., 2004; McMillan & Marks, 2003).

For many Indigenous students, enthusiasm for school dissipates after Year 8 and disillusion sets in when their expectations of school are not being met (Gray & Beresford, 2001). High rates of absenteeism and truancy not only have an adverse effect on academic achievement but also result in a sense of non-belonging at school, causing these students to become social outsiders (Gray & Partington, 2003; Mellor & Corrigan, 2004; Munns & McFadden, 2000).Absenteeism also correlates with high rates of juvenile crime (Gardiner, 1996; House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, 1996; Rothman, 2002).

Recent non-attendance studies in Western Australia by Gray (2000) and Gray and Beresford (2001) confirmed the federal Education Department's findings and provided new insight into the profound disadvantage faced by Indigenous students in Western Australia. The study found that factors such as low socio-economic background, low employment, single-parent and blended families, language other than English, student disabilities and student transience--well recognised as correlates of educational and social risk--had a further impact on educational disadvantage in significant and extended patterns of absenteeism for school.

This is consistent with findings from national and international studies on the impact of social indicators such as poverty, isolation, health, housing, educational experience of the student's care-give and language on regular school attendance and achievement (ACER, 2007; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2005; PISA, 2003; Zubrick et al., 2006).These factors have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous children, placing them at extreme educational risk.

There is no doubt that regular school attendance is the key to improved educational outcomes for Indigenous children. It could be argued that if this factor alone was tackled, then significant progress would be made in closing the gap in education outcomes for these children. But, we would argue that the complex interrelationship of the social indicators outlined above and the embedded nature of disadvantage for this group of children make it impossible to deal with any factor in isolation.

Benchmark measures

Completing the profile of concern, a stark discrepancy remains between learning outcomes for Australian Indigenous students and other students on all measures of educational outcomes, despite the gradual improvement over the last five years. As we outlined earlier, both non-attendance and early leaving are likely to be the most important factors in the relatively poor performance of Indigenous students at school.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (ACER, 2007) identified an international baseline proficiency level for 15-year-old students. Students performing below this baseline are judged by the OECD to be 'at serious risk of not achieving at levels sufficient to allow them to adequately participate in the 21st century workforce and contribute as productive citizens'. The 2006 PISA data (ACER, 2007) reports particular concern that 40 per cent of Australian Indigenous students are performing below the baseline in reading literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy. This is at least double the proportion of all Australian and New Zealand children performing below the baseline.

The national benchmark data from the 1996 Census indicated a significant gap between the reading levels of Year 3 and Year 5 Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students, as shown in Table 3. Literacy benchmark data was not collected for Year 7 until 2002.

The 20 per cent difference in proportion of children who met competency levels highlighted in the 1996 data was also evident in the 2005 data as illustrated in Table 4. It must be noted that benchmark data indicates the minimum level of competency at various grade levels; non-achievement of the benchmark indicates that the student will have difficulty making satisfactory progress at school (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008).

The national data clearly indicates established patterns of limited, incremental improvement in educational outcomes for Indigenous students. It is reasonable to assume a continuation of these patterns of limited outcomes if current modes of policy implementation continue. Given the established pattern of a 10 per cent improvement in retention every decade, it will take another 40 years to close the gap in Australia without significant rethinking of the relationships between policy stakeholders.

The potential to improve the cultural context of teaching and learning for Aboriginal students, identified in recent research and government reports as providing maximum opportunities for Aboriginal students to successfully complete their schooling, is further compromised by the difficulty of recruiting and retaining Aboriginal teachers. Despite the support available for potential Aboriginal preservice teachers, this problem is largely due to the small proportion of Aboriginal students who qualify for entry to tertiary education. While there is a growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Education Officers in training and schools, fewer than 2 per cent of primary teachers and fewer than 1 per cent of secondary teachers in Australian schools identify as being of Indigenous background (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008).

The international context

According to Kaufman (2003),Australia has the worst Indigenous educational outcomes of any comparable Western settler society. Based on 2001 data Kaufman (2003) showed that, whereas 40 per cent of Indigenous young Australians left school before reaching 16 years of age, 22 and 26 per cent respectively of young Indigenous Canadians and Americans did. Fewer Indigenous Australians had post-school qualifications than their counterparts in these two countries. (These three countries form a natural comparison in Indigenous education. In each country Indigenous people comprise less than 5 per cent of the total population and each country has similar political structures involving both state and federal governments in Indigenous affairs.)

Of course, as in Australia, data for remote groups of Indigenous students highlights the extent of the educational equity challenge. For example, Alaska Native secondary students score far below non-Native students on achievement tests and are twice as likely to drop out of high school before graduating (Goldsmith et al., 2004, p. 6).There are Alaska Native rural village high schools that have a 100 per cent non-completion rate (Freed & Sampson, 2004, p. 33).

Nevertheless, there are substantial similarities between Australia, Canada and the USA in the area of Indigenous education highlighting both the importance of learning from each country's respective experiences and the benefits to be derived from more detailed comparative work. Even the brief account given in this article suggests some sharp differences in historical experiences, notably the existence of treaty mechanisms with Indigenous peoples. In comparison with Australia, where no formal treaties were struck with Indigenous peoples after invasion and conquest, Canada and the USA have treaty mechanisms that have mandated commitment from federal governments to provide educational services to Indigenous communities. This factor may in part account for the higher levels of outcomes of Indigenous students in Canada and the USA in comparison to Australia.

Again drawing from the Alaskan experience for illustration and comparison, the Alaska state government--in a formal 1970s settlement with the Alaskan Indigenous people--agreed to build a high school in any village that wanted one and had at least eight students (Cotton, 1984; Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008). As a result, Alaska Native children living in remote villages could obtain a secondary education without having to leave home for boarding school.

Despite these historically different experiences with education, significant similarities can also be identified (Deyhle, 1995; Reyhner, 2002; Wotherspoon & Schissel, 1998):

* the degree to which historically based assimilation policies shaped the negative educational experiences of generations of Indigenous young people

* the repeated calls for greater self-determination and parent involvement in Indigenous education

* the failure of education authorities and governments to systematically act on recommendations for improvement emanating from successive waves of official inquiries undertaken over the past 30 years

* the presence of attitudes of alienation and resistance to education among significant numbers of Indigenous youth

* the ongoing sense of urgency about systems failure. Closing the gap in Indigenous education is a challenge common to Australia, Canada and the USA.

Factors affecting the Australian situation

In Australia, arguably, the slow rate of closing the gap in outcomes is governed by the interaction of five factors. These are not ranked in any particular order because all factors identified below are related. It is this set of relationships that makes Indigenous education a complex policy issue. At its most basic level, this complexity manifests itself the interrelationship between poor attendance and poor achievement. This complexity begins with its historical legacy.

Educational disadvantage normalised by the legacy of colonialism Any discussion of the failure to achieve better outcomes for Australian Indigenous youth must start with the impact of colonialism and the racism that drove it. Dispossession, segregation and assimilation have created intergenerational disadvantage and trauma that impede educational progress among most Indigenous students. Intergenerational trauma refers to unresolved grief, often manifesting as post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from dispossession, racism, and the policies of segregation and assimilation. Such trauma can be passed onto succeeding generations and can be expressed through family violence, alcohol and drug abuse and suicide (Gordon, 2002). Intergenerational disadvantage refers the reproduction of low socio-economic status in succeeding generations of Indigenous people.

Until the 1950s, racism governed the policy of denying Indigenous people access to all but a minimum education. As anthropologist A. P. Elkin wrote in the 1930s:

But even this racially inspired ceiling of opportunity was widely ignored. Children who were not removed from their families and placed in missions--where the standard of education was also minimal--were frequently barred from state schools altogether due to community racism. In the 1940s, one well-placed official working in Indigenous affairs estimated that fewer than 10 per cent of Indigenous children throughout Australia were attending state schools, a further 25 per cent were in church-based missions and the remainder--that is nearly two-thirds of Indigenous children--received no education whatsoever (Neville, 1947).

The consequences of denying education to several generations of Indigenous students set up intergenerational patterns of educational disadvantage that were apparent to educators by the mid-1970s. A federal government inquiry found:

Denial of educational opportunity to successive generations of Indigenous young people is but one manifestation of intergenerational problems affecting Indigenous people and the education of their children. Intergenerational trauma transmits itself in various forms of family violence. Explaining the prevalence and extent of this violence led one researcher (Atkinson, cited in Memmott et al., 2001, p. 50) to adopt the theory of disaster trauma as a framework to account for violent behaviours 'in families where there have been cumulative intergenerational impacts of trauma on trauma on trauma expressing themselves in present generations as violence on self and others'.

A number of Indigenous people suffer from intergenerational trauma specifically associated with their forcible removal from their families (and/or their parents' removal) under the policy of assimilation, which operated from the early 1900s until the 1970s. Known as the Stolen Generations, many of these people have experienced difficulties in being emotionally available and responsive to their own children (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997). This struggle for Stolen Generation parents places their children at higher risk of educational failure. Indeed an important finding from a recent survey of Indigenous students found that those who had been forcibly separated from their primary caregiver were more than one and a half times more likely to have had more than 10 days of unexplained absence from school (Zubrick et al., 2006). Other findings indicate a relationship between a parental background of removal and disproportionate involvement of children in the justice system, especially among serious and repeat offenders (Beresford & Omaji, 1996).

Few of the educational implications arising out of the experiences of the Stolen Generations have seeped into the official discourse. All the major inquiries into Indigenous education over the past 30 years have simply ignored the issue. In turn, this reflects the troubled experience Australia has had in reconciling its past. (This is discussed in more detail below.)

Generations of segregation had similarly debilitating effects on intergenerational disadvantage. The common practice throughout the populated areas of Australia was to consign Indigenous people by force of law to reserves rather than to tolerate detribalised Indigenous people living in urban areas. Frequently reserves were located next to rubbish dumps, cemeteries or sanitation sites. Governments tolerated such reserves until the 1970s. The effects on children growing up in such a marginalised and squalid existence have also been overlooked by all the official inquiries into Indigenous education over the past 30 years. One of the few studies undertaken in the 1960s claimed that reserve living was associated with a range of psychological conditions including apathy, depression and social withdrawal that were passed on from one generation to another (Beresford, 2003).

Although segregation was phased out during the 1970s, the economic marginalisation of Indigenous people continued. There has been very little upward mobility of Indigenous people over the past 30 years. Recent government data (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004) showed that more than 90 per cent of Indigenous people are in the bottom two quintiles of gross weekly household income and, significantly, that their economic position deteriorated between 1996 and 2001. The data provides a powerful reminder of American education sociologist John Ogbu's (1978) claim that the response by minority groups to education is governed by their perception of their place in the labour market. Thus, the huge concentration of Indigenous people in the lower income streams will act as a continual brake on improved retention and achievement rates.

The impact on education from the historical legacy of Australia's racist past is impossible to overestimate. It is clear these effects are still being felt today. But there is great uncertainty attached to how educational opportunity can be revived among Indigenous people so systematically denied such opportunities. How many generations does it take for the damage to be undone? In this respect, Canada, the USA and Australia share a similar historical experience. In various ways, all are struggling with the same intergenerational problems.

Past attempts at educational 'reform' have been embedded in racism, deficit theory and assimilation

Since the 'discovery' of educational disadvantage in the late 1960s governments have been engaged in a wide variety of reform measures but there has been little acknowledgement given to the ongoing place of racist assumptions and ideas in this process. Similarly, there has been little acknowledgment of the effect these ideas have had on underpinning the current slow progress in Indigenous education.

The explicit racism that governed Indigenous education in the first half of the 20th century (described in the previous section) became unsustainable after World War II. According to Winant (2004),World War II had been fought, at least in part, against the combined forces of fascism, imperialism and racism. To perpetuate open discrimination, such as excluding Indigenous children from schools, became increasingly untenable.

Thus, the decades-long official policy edifice of social and educational segregation of Indigenous people was replaced with a policy that aimed at their assimilation or integration. This framework still continued to be underpinned by ideas of race and, importantly, with major new roles for schools to uphold. As one official inquiry reported:

As these comments demonstrate, the seductive power of assimilation in the minds of white officials attained particular clarity when the role of education was being considered. The destructive impact of such a policy - rarely part of the contemporary discourse--was compellingly argued in its heyday in the late 1950s by Memmi (1990) when he wrote of the colonised learning to hate himself, reject his own culture, deny his own history and then dissolve himself. Schools came to play a key role in this process by creating alienating environments for Indigenous students.

Attachment to the idea of education as a key tool in the racial transformation of Indigenous Australians found a number of expressions in the 1970s and 1980s. Most observable was the racialised curriculum which, through its ethnocentric foundations, denied access to Indigenous culture. One educationalist (Nettle, 1974, p. 8) summed up the approach:

The construction of schools as vehicles for assimilation and integration also had a major impact in schools limiting Indigenous parental involvement in education at the very time when awareness of the potential for such involvement in improving educational outcomes was gaining recognition (Watts, 1978). The assimilationist view of education also shaped the explanations for ongoing poor performance among Indigenous students. If the aim of education was the acquisition of cultural knowledge to make Indigenous people acceptable to whites, then it followed that the failure to achieve this was the fault of Indigenous people themselves. Explanations of 'cultural deprivation' and 'compensatory education' were thus widespread in education circles throughout the 1970s and later.

Writing in the 1970s, Goodnow (1974) explained the racist assumption behind both explanations. 'Cultural deprivation' was based on 'the assumption that the 'other' group has 'less' of what we have, and could be cured by an infusion or enriched dose of our culture. What we have, of course, must be better'. 'Compensatory education', on the other hand, was a term 'with unfortunate overtones of compensating for a shortcoming or deficit in the minority individual'. Historically, Deficit Theory and approaches have typified the subtext of the education systems and their engagement with Indigenous students across all jurisdictions. There is now an intergenerational impact, with more than three generations of Indigenous people believing that they cannot perform in the mainstream. This embedded approach creates a major hurdle to overcoming the gap in educational outcomes.

Both explanations made it easy for teachers to rationalise Indigenous failure at school, reinforcing new forms of racial segregation. Indigenous people were unable to meet the standards of assimilation and integration as demanded by the schools as cultural gatekeepers and were consigned to the lowest socio-economic status, where they posed the least possible threat to white values and attitudes.

The explanations for education common during the 1970s and 1980s underpinned the continuation of the educational marginalisation of Indigenous students. They underpinned an approach whereby Indigenous students were regularly placed in 'special classes' for underachievers, which typically eroded many Indigenous students' commitment to school (Beresford & Partington, 2003).This consignment of Indigenous students to the bottom rung of educational achievers was facilitated by the use of standard intelligence tests. The cultural bias inherent in such tests disadvantaged Indigenous students. As McKeich (1969) reflected: 'Language difficulties, time and speed elements, rapport, unfamiliarity with the content of the test items and so on, make it extremely difficult for [them] to score effectively' (p. 21).

The educational ideas that led schools to be vehicles for the cultural transformation of Indigenous people was continually fed by wider social attitudes in a reinforcing manner that made progressive reform almost impossible. The extent of Australia's prejudice towards its Indigenous people was laid bare in the first full survey of community attitudes, undertaken in 1985 and funded by the federal government. This found widespread stereotyping of community attitudes towards Indigenous people as lazy alcoholics or desert-bound 'noble' savages. In turn, these attitudes were found to be the product of 'ignorance, misconceptions, fear and doubts', in addition to an unwillingness to transfer any real power to Indigenous people (ANOP, 1985). These racist attitudes had a direct impact upon the education of Indigenous students. As a federal government inquiry in the mid-1980s found: 'The prejudicial attitudes towards Aboriginal people which exist in the general community are usually reflected in the attitudes of non-Aboriginal teachers and students towards Aboriginal students' (House of Representatives Select Committee on Aboriginal Education, 1985, p. 43).

Community racism and schools as ideological vehicles for assimilation and integration have had dramatic impacts on the attitudes of Indigenous young people that persist to this day (Gray & Beresford, 2001). Drawing again on the pioneering work of American sociologist John Ogbu, we argue that it has become common to conceptualise Indigenous failure at school as a process of power relationships: 'powerless' Indigenous students resist 'powerful' school processes because they are alien and unresponsive to them.

Ogbu (1978) argued that caste-like minorities (that is, a minority group regarded as inferior by the dominant society) develop, as a counter-challenge, oppositional social identities and behaviour in which school achievement is resisted as the domain of whites. In part, this resistance is an outcome of Indigenous students' lack of opportunities in the labour market and a self-protection measure against their own failures to meet the standards set by schools. Clear evidence of resistance among urban Indigenous students to school arising out of their awareness of their poor job prospects was evident in education studies in the early 1970s, but the findings were largely ignored by authorities (Beresford & Partington, 2003).

Resistance theory has attracted the attention of Australian education researchers, with compelling findings. In their study of Australian Indigenous youth, Groome and Hamilton found resistance actively at work:

But the notion of resistance is more multilayered than commonly understood. Indigenous students resist education for a variety of socio-economic, school-based and psychological reasons. As an analytical tool, resistance conveys powerful insights but its boundaries have become blurred.

The wider issue raised by resistance theory is the extent to which racist assumptions continue to underlie the educational policies and practices experienced by Indigenous students. It is no longer a straightforward matter to analyse this issue, given the shifting meanings attached to the term. Contemporary theories of racism acknowledge its complexity of meaning since civil rights were extended to minorities in the 1960s (Fredrickson, 2002; Winant, 2004). Most writers on racism acknowledge its changing format: the disappearance of official or legalised forms of racism and its replacement with more covert forms of expression. As Fredrickson (2002, p. 151) comments: racism 'may now express itself in institutional patterns or social practices that have adverse effects on members of groups thought of as "races", even if the unconscious belief that they are inferior or unworthy is absent'.

Such a conceptualisation of the changing meaning of racism has strong resonances in four related dimensions of the contemporary educational experiences of Indigenous students.

* Indigenous students are still impacted by racism even though its form has shifted from overt to covert. An Indigenous education worker has explained:

* The public nature of negative comparisons between benchmark achievement for Indigenous students without accompanying contextual explanations reinforces a rationalisation of the ongoing gap in educational outcomes. For example, most Indigenous children do not attend preschool and begin their formal schooling without the formal early literacy and numeracy education of the majority of children beginning compulsory schooling. Inevitably, any early benchmark measures of learning are skewed by the differences in early educational experience.

* The operation of a behaviour-management approach to classroom discipline has continued to result in a disproportionate number of Indigenous students being suspended or excluded from school; up to three times the average of non-Indigenous students are suspended annually (Partington & Gray, 2003).

* The operation of the juvenile justice system has continued to result in a disproportionate number of Indigenous young people given court-ordered punishments including periods of detention and from which it is difficult to later re-connect with school (Beresford & Omaji, 1996).

The limitations of traditional approaches to public administration highlighted by complexity

Steadily accumulating information about Indigenous education through official inquiries has broadened the understanding of the range of issues behind the continuing poor outcomes. What has emerged is the complexity of social factors behind Indigenous young people's school attendance and retention. In the most comprehensive survey undertaken of Indigenous school attendance (Zubrick et al., 2006). Fifteen factors were found to be associated with poor school attendance: age; language spoken in the school (Aboriginal language or Aboriginal English); background in day care; sufficiency of sleep; academic performance; risk of emotional/ or behavioural difficulties or both; the carer's relationship with school or principal or both; labour-force status of the carer; home ownership; frequency of reading to the child at home; number of life stress events; proportion of Indigenous students in the school; presence in the school of an Indigenous education officer; and socio-economic status of the school.

But such lists may not in themselves present a complete picture. According to the Little children are sacred report (Wild & Anderson, 2007), Northern Territory communities have been plagued by problems of child sexual abuse for decades. Similar findings were made by the Gordon report in Western Australia (Beresford & Beresford, 2006; Gordon, 2002). Further research is necessary to determine how policy and practice can deal with these complex and interrelated social challenges that have an impact on the attendance, retention and resilience of Indigenous students.

Responding to such a wide range and interrelated set of barriers to school performance has proved to be challenging for both policy-makers and schools. Five broad approaches to policy and program development have been implemented in response to the release in 1989 of the National Aboriginal Education Plan:

* welfare and health needs

* cultural identity

* literacy and numeracy

* academic aspirations

* parental involvement.

It is also the case that these efforts remain partial in scope, fragmented in approach and based on inadequate conceptions of the complexities of the issues.

A particular problem has been the shortcomings in the traditional model of public administration, which struggles with responses to complex social issues. Attempts at enhanced coordination--linking government agencies to deliver services better--have been a feature of reform efforts in Indigenous affairs generally. Few attempts have been made to evaluate coordination structures in Indigenous affairs. This was the focus in at least one official inquiry (Gordon, 2002), which was established to investigate family violence and child abuse in Indigenous communities. It reported mixed findings on the effectiveness of coordination. While some attempts to integrate service provision were effective in some areas, the broader picture illustrated a range of problems. According to one submission to the inquiry from an Indigenous community, the current system suffered from a 'persistent lack of a cohesive and interactive service between all agencies when dealing with clients'. Agencies were not working together in a holistic manner to keep the family unit intact. Nor were services 'offered in a coordinated way to ensure all of the families needs are met in a manner that is appropriate to the culture' (Gordon, 2002, p. 346).

The problems identified are consistent with emerging studies of public sector management; that is, the bureaucratic ethos with its specialised functions, established professional disciplines and 'silo' operational methods, leaves little room for inter-agency collaboration 'in defining social problems and making policies to address them' (Peach, 2004).

The challenges of sustaining reform

Educational leaders at all levels of government are acutely aware of the need for sustainable change practices in Australian Indigenous education. Sustainability in this context means the capacity of education authorities to maintain a shared vision of equity and to mobilise the resources, commitment and accountability to achieve a long-term change (Fullan, 2005). As noted theorist of educational change Fullan has written, sustainability of educational change requires that any solutions must be 'efficient, sophisticated, powerful and amenable to action' (2005, p. 13). For example, $63 million in funds in Australia in 2001-04 to accelerate outcomes for Indigenous students and to achieve educational equity for Indigenous young people was for a coordinated national strategy (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2003):

The challenge required a coordinated and sustainable implementation of a national strategy implemented at a local (school) level.

The sustainability of policies in Indigenous education is undermined by a range of interacting factors:

* National strategies are often poorly conceived, crisis-driven and lack sound strategic planning. There has been a concentration on programs designed to meet specific urgent problems such as absenteeism, literacy, numeracy and language development while 'serious core problems are not addressed' (New South Wales Public Education Inquiry, 2002).

* There is a confusing overlap of federal and state responsibilities in Indigenous education. Nominally, education is the province of state governments but the Constitution grants power over Indigenous affairs to the federal government and its involvement is further underpinned by the power of its funding arrangements. This means that schools often have to relate to two different sources of policy, funding and accountability, adding to the complexity of identifying strategies and producing outcomes.

* Schools experience a range of limitations in their capacity to fully realise their potential for coordination with other government agencies, which, as previously mentioned is essential to ongoing, improved outcomes. Schools typically do not maintain active, ongoing partnerships with relevant agencies. In addition, there is no shared understanding of the boundaries of ownership and resources for developing localised strategies. Studies have shown schools struggle to maintain partnerships with agencies including police, children's and family services, juvenile services and disability services (Gray & Beresford, 2002).

* Schools located in the many geographic isolated Indigenous communities face added burdens in sustaining good educational outcomes. Challenges include language and cultural barriers, frequent turnover of staff, the presence of inexperienced, newly graduated teachers, and the relative absence of wider institutional support.

* 5. Teachers and principals are not always sufficiently informed and trained to carry out programs relating to Indigenous students. Teachers have very little contact with Indigenous people and they struggle to understand the context of modern Indigenous life. Consequently schools often do not understand the need to fully involve Indigenous parents and communities in the education process; nor do they understand why differentiated approaches are needed for Indigenous students (Beresford & Partington, 2003; Gray & Beresford, 2001).

* 6. Community participation of Indigenous communities in education continues to be limited despite research (Cummins, 2001, p. 664) highlighting that 'students from dominated communities will be empowered in the school context to the extent that the communities themselves are empowered through their interactions with the school'. However, the willingness of Australian schools to comply with policy requirements to involve Aboriginal parents in school decision-making has been at best patchy (Beresford and Partington, 2003).

As Fullan has reminded educational theorists, 'the process of educational reform is much more complex than has been anticipated. Even apparent successes have fundamental flaws' (2001, p. 17). The problems attending accelerated educational outcomes in Indigenous education--despite best intentions--illustrates Fullan's point.

The impact of broader ideological currents in Indigenous affairs on education policy and practice

The Australian political system has been reluctant to empower Indigenous people to be self-determining. Reconciliation has had a troubled history in Australia since it was first formally raised as federal government policy in 1983 (Beresford & Beresford, 2006). In 1992 reconciliation was formally established. The Australian Council on Reconciliation had the task of 'forging innovative partnerships to: achieve social and economic equity for Indigenous Australians; strengthening the people's movement for Reconciliation; and acknowledging the past and building a framework for a shared future' (Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee, 2003, p. 7). But the same Senate committee found that reconciliation was 'slipping off the national agenda' (p. v). It noted that progress was slow in dealing with Indigenous disadvantage and there was an ongoing reluctance to accept the truth about the nation's racist past. The 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations offered by the Rudd government together with its stated intention to close the gap on Indigenous rates of mortality within 15 years may offer new opportunities for dialogue on reconciliation.

Critical race theory (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001) can help explain Australia's failure to reconcile over the past 25 years. Its emphasis on explaining race relations as a manifestation of embedded racism, whites' perception of their colour blindness, the weakness of the liberal state, the primacy of elite economic interests and working-class psychological interests is helpful in teasing out how reconciliation has been undermined in Australia (Beresford & Beresford, 2006).

Critical race theory is also a useful construct through which to explain the Howard government's policy in Indigenous affairs between 1996 and 2007. Indigenous education in Australia was reconfigured within the ideological framework of 'mutual obligation' that was applied across the social welfare system and by which the federal government enforced a transition from passive to active welfare, with a range of incentives and disincentives. Some of the measures within this applied specifically to Indigenous people. Indigenous parents in some parts of the country were subject to loss of welfare payments if their children did not attend school (The Australian, 10 March 2006).The Howard government's intervention in the Northern Territory, after the release of the Little children are sacred report (Wild & Anderson, 2007) focused further attention on these issues. Mutual obligation in Indigenous communities was also being pursued by the Howard government through 'Shared Responsibilities Agreements' by which government and community negotiated roles and responsibilities to produce improved social outcomes. Although only a recent development, the need for improved educational outcomes from these agreements can be expected to be a focal point of negotiations. While based in the theory of partnerships, the new approach was criticised at the time for making Indigenous people's access to core human rights entitlements conditional on behavioural changes to which the non-Indigenous community was not subjected (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, 2005).


The challenge remains: what change processes are needed to close the gap in educational outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students? Further, the question must be asked as to whether it is within the scope of public policy to deal with a problem as complex, multidimensional, and embedded as closing the gap in educational disadvantage for Indigenous young people. Certainly, all the indicators suggest it is a formidable challenge that Australia, Canada and the USA have not yet achieved a resolution.

Part of the reason for the degree of challenge lies in the complexity of the problem. Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students conforms very closely to a particular class of problem defined as 'wicked problems'. This concept assists in bringing together the various strands of complexity into a single classification.

The notion of wicked problems was first formulated by in the 1970s (Rittle & Webber, 1973) as an alternative to the limitations of linear thinking as the prevailing form of problem-solving.

Rittle and Webber identified a group of problems that are ill formed, embedded, confusing and involve many clients and decision-makers. The wicked problems identified by Rittle and Webber include some of these particular features:

* they can be described in different ways and have different solutions

* there is always more than one plausible explanation for them

* they involve a multiplicity of factors embedded in a dynamic social context

* there is no one way to solve them; no right or true test for a solution

* each is unique.

This concept resonates clearly with the analysis presented in this article: the interacting and complex causes of Indigenous educational disadvantage; the interacting set of underlying theoretical explanations; the multiplicity of agencies and policy approaches; and the uncertainty governing ways forward.

This uncertainty over ways forward is clearly highlighted in the very different policy frameworks that are now being pursued in Australia, Canada and the USA.

Unlike Australia, Canada and the USA pursued a policy of increased self-determination in Indigenous education from the 1970s. The US government lent further support to this ideal by enacting legislation mandating Indigenous control over education. Yet, in both countries, self-determination 'has proven more illusionary than real', mainly through restrictions on funding (Brady, 1995).

For several years Canada has been attempting to close the gap in Indigenous education within a policy framework of reconciliation marked by government-appointed inquiry into the impact of past racial policies; compensation for the victims of past assimilation policies; and a long-term commitment to fund programs to address social disadvantage within Indigenous communities. This is designed as a long-term strategy, as Palmer (2006) recently explained: 'The goal of improving the aboriginal graduation rate, which is roughly half that of the non-aboriginal rate, is part of a five-year, $5.1 billion initiative to address aboriginal poverty through better housing, health care and education'. Most of the $1 billion for education has been earmarked for band-run schools on reserves.

Canada has also pioneered a partnership approach to Indigenous education through the establishment of Improved Agreement Projects. These are working agreements between a school district, all local Aboriginal communities and the education authorities. Through such collaborative partnership in sharing decisionmaking and specific goal-setting, they aim to meet the educational needs of Indigenous students (Martin, 2004).

In the USA, increased accountability has been a feature of a renewed commitment to improving Indigenous education within the broader framework of President Bush's No Child Left Behind policy. This is a deficit-reduction measure that requires schools to increase their standards on basic literacy and numeracy and their accountability for performance that is intended to apply to all educationally disadvantaged children. In operation since 2001, it has elicited a mixed response for its impact on Indigenous education. The National Indian Education Association (2005) has reported that, while some schools serving Native Americans--both public and Native run--have demonstrated compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act, this has come at the expense of diminishment of native language and culture.

From this brief survey, it is clear that Australia, Canada and the USA are each responding to the complexity of Indigenous education in distinctive ways. Wicked problem theory provides little opportunity to examine which of these approaches is likely to produce the best results. The theory cannot explain why, despite the complexity, only incremental progress has occurred over time. There is little in the theory to indicate ways in which the plateau effect in Indigenous education might be shifted.

One possible way forward is to link an understanding of the core causes of Indigenous educational disadvantage with the potential of the key groups to become more effectively involved in indigenous education: executive governments, government agencies, non-government agencies, Aboriginal communities and schools. How might these come together to form a new model of governance? This becomes clearer firstly by recapitulating the key, underlying causes with broad strategies to tackle them:

* Intergenerational disadvantage and trauma: this necessitates a long-term commitment from executive government to a framework of reconciliation that is open about the impacts of past policies and offers funding to deal with them. In this way, education policy can be more explicitly linked to overcoming the impacts of past policies that created intergenerational educational disadvantage. It is also clear that a framework of reconciliation must be shared by other agencies working with Indigenous people.

* Ongoing socio-economic disadvantage: Tackling such disadvantage is likely to be much more effective if it is based around a partnership framework in which self-determining Aboriginal communities can be linked in shared responsibility with government agencies to deal with endemic social problems.

* Lack of sustainability of school reform: Schools alone cannot be expected to manage large-scale change aimed at improving Indigenous educational disadvantage. They must be resourced to contribute in partnership with other agencies tackling systemic problems.

* Embedded racism: Facing up to the ways in which contemporary racism permits the continuation of severe socio-economic disadvantage will require a combined effort by government and other agencies.

Secondly, these strategies need integrating into new decision-making and resourcing structures that more effectively combine the potential of government to work with Indigenous communities, as outlined in Figure 1. Implicit within the optimisation of the proposed model is the assumption that both the 'political authority' and the 'Government agencies' include Indigenous advisers and professionals. This will help counter the return to a position where the non-Indigenous Australian government becomes chief architect of Indigenous educational reforms, when Indigenous people are the subject of those reforms.


Vertical policy-making captures the power vested in central government to set agendas for schools and other agencies. The notion of wicked problems assumes that the executive government needs to become an active player in solving them but, on its own, vertical policy-making has limits to its effectiveness. The complex power relationships historically dominating development and implementation of public policy on all levels of educational outcomes of Indigenous young people have compromised any legitimate participation of Indigenous communities in the governance structure. Moreover, policies allowing schools greater autonomy in decision-making risk leaving complex educational issues unconsidered. Therefore, the optimum governance strategy is a combination of centralised political authority to provide the necessary governance structures with flexible local implementation.

Horizontal policy-making captures recent trends in developing partnership models to deal with social and community issues. To date, partnerships between education departments, government agencies and Indigenous communities have lacked the resilience and ongoing commitment to sustain any durable support structures. Peach described the success of using a horizontal structure in tackling 'formidable' problems in Canada:

This policy configuration is best conceptualised as a series of regional agreements with the capacity to tackle all facets of socio-economic disadvantage in Indigenous communities, and especially in rural and remote settings. An integrated regional approach has been strongly supported by the Minerals Council of Australia in its 2007-08 budget: there was 'a need for regional Indigenous representative structures to facilitate and support Indigenous interaction with Government and the private sector' (Minerals Council of Australia, 2007, p. 25). Such a regional approach has particular benefits to deal with educational improvement because, as Altman (2008) has argued:


As the analyses in this article demonstrate, Indigenous education remains in a parlous state, characterised by decades of slow improvement and a more recent plateau effect of outcomes. Only by combining data covering educational outcomes and data dealing with wider social and economic outcomes for Indigenous people can the full complexity of this problem be highlighted. This combination of data underpins the need for the application of a multidisciplinary approach to social theory in order to fully explore the potential to achieve more rapid progress to achieving equity in Indigenous education. It could be that the way to deal with the 'wickedness' of the problem is to focus on a coordinated, resourced effort to improve attendance, curriculum, health, support and quality teaching for Indigenous students--that is, dealing with the pragmatics of the educational context would result in improved educational outcomes for Indigenous students despite the modern forms of racism. But history shows the critical impact the wide range of social factors has on such practical, simplistic solutions. Without a new body of quality research on these issues and approaches, we have no way of knowing if it is possible to subvert the deficit impact of racism. What is obvious is the need for a more coordinated approach to improving all social outcomes for Indigenous students across the federal-state system.

The incapacity of the present education system, most notably our schools, to respond adequately to this national crisis is without question. In order to move forward from the limited and flattened outcomes already outlined, a sophisticated national strategic response is required. To this end, a new policy governance model is required, drawing on all the benefits of vertical policy-making potential through a combination of political and school authorities and partnerships between Indigenous communities, education departments and government agencies. This powerful combination could operate as a series of integrated regional agreements with the potential to provide ownership of commitment to improved social outcomes. Without such a model, any improvement in educational outcomes for Indigenous students is in danger of stagnating.


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Jan Gray

Quentin Beresford

Edith Cowan University

Dr Jan Gray is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Edith Cowan University. Email: Jan.gray@ecu.edu.au

Dr Quentin Beresford is Associate Professor of Politics and Government, Edith Cowan University.
It is distressingly apparent that many years of policy effort have
   not delivered desired outcomes; indeed in some important respects
   the circumstances of Indigenous people appear to have deteriorated
   or regressed. Worse than that, outcomes in the strategic areas
   identified as critical to overcoming disadvantage in the long term
   remain well short of what is needed (Steering Committee for the
   Review of Government Service Provision, 2005, p. 19).

Regular and high levels of attendance are important for all
   students--to maintain a similar rate of learning as their peers, to
   achieve sufficient knowledge and skills to reach the required
   standards for each level and to be able to move on to the
   subsequent higher level (Mellor & Corrigan, 2004, p. 27).

The present policy is to educate aborigines (mostly mixed-bloods)
   up to what might be called a 'useful labourer's standard', for to
   do more, if it were possible, would not help them ... aborigines
   (full and mixed blood) should not, and can not, be assimilated by
   the white community. They must live apart ... They cannot become
   equals of the white race. (1937, p. 481)

Not only are the parents themselves often little schooled, they
   also have meagre understandings for success in school. Therefore,
   they cannot help their children with academic content, skills for
   the conduct of or for kindling aspirations in continued schooling.
   (Cited in Beresford & Partington, 2003, p. 51)

In any scheme for the ultimate integration of the native into the
   general social structure, education in the widest sense must play a
   role. In his present state he is treated almost with contempt as an
   inferior; if he is to be acceptable to white society--and without
   this there can be no future for him--his mode of living and his
   whole outlook on life must undergo a complete transformation ... He
   must abandon what to us appear to be habits of slothfulness,
   indolence and dishonesty and become industrious, reliable and
   trustworthy. In short, while retaining the more desirable elements
   of his own culture, he must live as we live and generally conform
   to the requirements of white civilisation. To enable him to adjust
   himself to the life that we are thrusting on him, all the
   educational agencies that can be mustered must be directed to his
   aid (Legislative Assembly of Western Australia, 1958, p. 15).

Generally speaking, the Aboriginal enters the content of Australian
   education largely incidentally. We meet them in the stories of
   discovery as 'the natives who were friendly, unfriendly or not to
   be trusted'. Some material about their traditional life and customs
   comes into stories ... in sentimentalised form and often in a tone
   of patronage. Later the Aborigines creep into the Social Sciences
   courses as a problem not so much to be understood as to be
   explained away

Teachers discussed with us the strong pressures which Aboriginal
   students placed on each other not to succeed at school. A climate
   can be created in which achievement is regarded as a 'shame job.'
   We commonly heard of young students with ability who, under
   pressure from their peers, began to go backwards in achievement ...
   When Aboriginal youth are unable to develop positive relations with
   teachers, they can develop identities which are oppositional to
   those desired by the school ... They see themselves as losers who
   are processed, defined and recycled within the mechanisms of
   school. Their existence as persons is devalued and they become
   targets for reform or exclusion. (1995, p. 37)

People still think of Aboriginal kids in the same way and kids
   still think of themselves in the same way. Aboriginal kids are not
   expected to achieve, so they don't. This is a cumulative attitude
   in many families, reinforced by wider society. The way people just
   look at Aborigines in a negative and inferior way impacts on kids.
   It starts when they are in early adolescence as they develop hooks
   into societal attitudes. They pick up the body language of other
   students and teachers. The enthusiasm for school dissipates. (Cited
   in Gray & Beresford, 2002, p. 19)

A national strategy is required in order to achieve the greatest
   impact from the policies and resources available to each level of
   government and in each community. A national strategy does not
   imply identical action in every community. The community and
   parental commitment essential to success means that a diversity of
   approaches is needed to suit the needs of different circumstances.
   However, a national strategy will involve co-ordinated action
   within the Commonwealth government across relevant portfolios,
   co-operative action between the Commonwealth and the States and
   Territories which have primary responsibility for schooling, and
   the effective involvement of local communities, schools, parents
   and students.

While major policy initiatives designed to make significant changes
   in serious multi-faceted social problems generally take years to
   demonstrate progress, those jurisdictions that have had horizontal
   policy initiatives in place for some time and have seriously
   implemented the public administrative changes necessary to make
   them effective have started to see some improvement in social
   outcomes. (2004, p. 30)

Some Aboriginal people want mainstream education for mainstream
   outcomes. Others want education more suited to local economic,
   cultural and environmental circumstances and non-mainstream
   outcomes. Getting the balance right between the quality and equity
   is the enormous challenge we now face.

Table 1 Apparent school retention rates, Indigenous full-time

From          1996    1997    1998    1999
Year 7/8       (%)     (%)     (%)     (%)

To Year 9     96.5    96.4    95.0    93.9
To Year 10    75.8    80.6    83.3    82.0
To Year 11    47.2    49.6    52.3    56.0
To Year 12    29.2    30.9    32.1    34.7

From          2000    2001    2002    2003    2004
Year 7/8       (%)     (%)     (%)     (%)     (%)

To Year 9     95.5    96.5    97.8    96.8    96.5
To Year 10    83.0    85.7    86.4    87.2    86.4
To Year 11    53.6    56.1    58.9    61.4    61.4
To Year 12    36.4    35.7    38.0    39.1    39.5

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004, 2005, Table 3.2

Table 2 Apparent school retention rates, full-time students,
1996, 2004

From Year 7/8                                      1996     2004

To Year 9       Indigenous                         96.5     96.5
                Non-Indigenous                     99.6     99.9
                Difference (percentage points)     -3.1     -3.4
To Year 10      Indigenous                         75.8     86.4
                Non-Indigenous                     97.3     98.5
                Difference (percentage points)    -21.5    -12.1
To Year 11      Indigenous                         47.2     61.4
                Non-Indigenous                     84.3     89.5
                Difference (percentage points)    -37.1    -28.1
To Year 12      Indigenous                         29.2     39.5
                Non-Indigenous                     72.4     76.8
                Difference (percentage points)    -43.2    -37.3

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004, 2005

Table 3 Literacy benchmarks, 1996

                       Year 3 (%) Year 5 (%)

Indigenous students       72.0       66.9
All students              90.3       89.8

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004, 2005.

Table 4 Year 3 and Year 5 students, Proportion achieving benchmarks,

              Year 3         Year 5
            Indigenous    All students   Indigenous    All students
                (%)           (%)            (%)           (%)

Reading        78.0           92.7          62.8           87.5
Writing        74.0           92.8          74.3           93.3
Numeracy       80.4           94.1          66.5           90.8

Source: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace
Relations, 2008
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