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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room

By Maria Kurdyukova, Bachelor of Professional Accounting and Bachelor of Laws

The Australian Government and several other bodies have released statistics that are so staggering, they’re impossible to ignore. So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Even though there has been progress in the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, we shouldn’t celebrate just yet. In 2008 the Australian Government set a target to halve the gap for reading and numeracy within a decade. By 2018, this target was not met.

Data collected by Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) illustrates that in 2018 the proportion of Indigenous children who were deemed developmentally vulnerable was twice that of non-Indigenous children (above figure).

In 2018, school-based language and cognitive skills was the area with the largest gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children who were developmentally vulnerable (a difference of 23%).

Furthermore, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released findings of a decline in reading literacy for Indigenous students from 2000 to 2018 (from a mean score of 448 to 431).

It’s easy for us readers to feel desensitised to such statistics. So, I’ll illustrate this issue through my personal experience.

As part of the GLP, I took up a role as a volunteer tutor at a homework club for Aboriginal children. In this role, I would help students complete their homework or revision, and then end the session with a play in the sandbox or a yarn with the Elders. This role allowed me to develop my cultural understanding, but it also opened my eyes to the inequality experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

One of the children at the homework club that I worked closely with was about 8 years old. Throughout our sessions I realised that this student was struggling with putting words in alphabetical order. This is a skill typically mastered by children much younger. The student had told me that even though he was falling behind, there was no additional support for him at school. The student had repeated multiple grades, and if this was not a clear indication to the school that the student needed extra support, then I don’t know what is. I was astounded that this student had been ignored and that the system was failing him so greatly. This grass-root experience has furthered my advocacy for better opportunities and outcomes for our Indigenous Peoples.

Why have I decided to focus on education in this blog? Because higher levels of education have been linked with improved health and wellbeing, income, employment, and a range of other social benefits (ABS 2011).

There are some ways we, as students, can assist in closing the gap. For those who are looking to create a positive impact in the lives of others, to create meaningful relationships, to gain cultural understanding, or to get some GLP credit points; I highly suggest volunteering at an Aboriginal centre like I did.

Furthermore, I would encourage students to start conversations about the realities of these issues and raise awareness. A lot of people live day-to-day; unaware of the existing disparities, and entrenched disadvantages that others face.

Don’t you think that it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room?


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