Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Minority Attainment - Investing Billions in Aboriginal Students: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Minority Attainment - Investing Billions in Aboriginal Students: News

Article excerpt

Australia's 'indigenous loading' aims to tackle underachievement.

Almost 250 years after British explorer Captain James Cook first came face to face with indigenous Australians, a stark social divide remains between the country's Aboriginal communities and their neighbours of European descent.

Many of Australia's "first citizens" are living in extreme poverty and have a life expectancy that is 10 years lower than their fellow Australians. In education, national assessment results from 2012 revealed that, across all age groups, the average performance of indigenous students in reading and numeracy was two to three years behind their peers.

Now, the Australian government has set aside A$5.5 billion (Pounds 3.5 billion) to try to close the attainment gap. And, just as significantly, it has announced plans to give all students the opportunity to learn Aboriginal languages for the first time.

A new draft curriculum states that all schools should teach indigenous languages to Aboriginal students and to their non-indigenous classmates. The number of indigenous languages in regular use across Australia has dropped from 250 in the pre-colonial era to about 150 today. The majority of the remaining languages are classed as highly endangered, and it is believed that just 10 per cent are still being taught.

"Keeping language alive in our communities is really important but until now there has been no national approach," schools minister Peter Garrett said.

Learning these languages, the draft framework argues, "can play an important part in the development of a strong sense of identity, pride and self-esteem for all Australian students".

Last week, Mr Garrett also announced plans to set aside part of the A$5.5 billion to provide a package of financial support for the 200,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who live on the group of islands between the Australian mainland and New Guinea. He said that education could be their "passport out of poverty".

The package of "indigenous loading" funding equates to about A$30,000 (Pounds 21,000) per student over a six-year period, but the sum will depend on factors such as their school's location and level of deprivation.

For the first time, every indigenous student in Australia will be given a personalised learning plan, with funding also being made available for breakfast clubs, homework centres and even employing extra teaching assistants. …

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