Sat, Mar 25, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Thirty years on, Aboriginal children struggling to learn

AFP , SYDNEY

Australia's school system is leaving Aboriginal children lagging well behind their non-indigenous classmates, with little or no improvement in Aboriginal education in more than 30 years, a study released yesterday shows.

The survey of some 2,500 students in the state of Western Australia found that Aboriginal students started school at a disadvantage and that the gap only widened during their years in the classroom.

The study, by the non-profit Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, found almost 60 percent of Aboriginal children were rated by their teachers as having a poor academic performance compared with less than 20 percent for their classmates.

"Aboriginal children performed far worse at school than non-Aboriginal children," it said. "No obvious progress has been made over the past 30 years to effectively close the disparity in academic performance."

The report noted that high absenteeism, emotional and behavioral difficulties and parents and carers generally having lower levels of schooling contributed to poorer outcomes for Aboriginal children.

"It is clear from the findings of the survey that poor physical health problems and poor nutrition are not the major factors holding back the performance," the report said. "Until the more deep-seated problems of social and emotional wellbeing and the ongoing consequences of past policies of exclusion from school-based education are addressed, the prospects for major improvements in academic performance are limited."

The study's head investigator, Steve Zubrick, said the findings showed an urgent need for an overhaul of Aboriginal education, particularly in the early years.

"Many of the programs to support Aboriginal children start in late primary or high school by which time the gap in performance between Aboriginal children and others is simply too great," said Zubrick, a psychologist and professor at Curtin University of Technology in Perth.

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