Education is key to improving opportunities for all Australians. Education has been linked to improved health outcomes, employment, income and other social benefits in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (ABS 2011; Biddle & Cameron 2012; Hart et al. 2017). This page provides an overview of indicators relating to Indigenous education and skills, focusing primarily on progress against Closing the Gap education targets.

The Council of Australian Governments committed to 7 Closing the Gap targets; 4 of which are related to education.

Closing the Gap targets for education
 

  • Ensure that 95% of all Indigenous 4-year-olds are enrolled in early childhood education by 2025.
  • Close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within 5 years by 2018.
  • Halve the gap for Indigenous children in reading and numeracy within a decade by 2018.
  • Halve the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20–24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates by 2020 (PM&C 2019).

Of the education targets, those on early childhood education and Year 12 or equivalent attainment are on track to be met, however those on school attendance and reading and numeracy are not on track (PM&C 2019).

Early childhood education

In 2017, around 15,700 (95%) Indigenous four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education, in line with the target of 95% enrolment by 2025 (PM&C 2019). Among these, only 68% attended preschool for at least 600 hours, the recommended number per year under the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education (DET 2017; PM&C 2019).

Most states and territories had already achieved the target of 95% enrolment for Indigenous four-year-olds in 2017. All except the Northern Territory had more than 90% attendance rates (the proportion of enrolled children who attended for at least 1 hour in a reference week). Attendance rates for Indigenous children in early childhood education were generally lower in Remote and Very remote areas, and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children was highest in these areas (PM&C 2019).

School attendance

School attendance rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in years 1 to 10 did not improve between 2014 and 2018. In Semester 1, 2018, the attendance rate for Indigenous Australian students was 82%, compared with 93% for non-Indigenous Australian students (ACARA 2018b) (Figure 1).

The latest formal assessment of progress against this target, based on 2017 data, showed that the target was not on track (PM&C 2019). School attendance data for 2018 has since been released (ACARA 2018b). However, the official Australian Government assessment of this target will be provided in the Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s report 2020.

There was little change between 2014 and 2018 in school attendance rates for Indigenous students across states and territories. The Northern Territory experienced the largest change between 2014 and 2018, with attendance decreasing by 5 percentage points. All other states and territories had a decrease of around 2 percentage points or less over this period (ACARA 2018b).

Indigenous students in Very remote areas have lower school attendance rates

In 2018, the attendance rate was 22–23 percentage points lower for Indigenous students in Very remote areas (63%) compared with Inner regional areas (86%) and Major cities (85%) (ACARA 2018a). The impact of remoteness was also evident for Indigenous attendance levels (attending 90% or more of the time). In Inner regional areas, 55% of students were attending at this level, however this fell to 21% in Very remote areas (ACARA 2018b).

Attendance rates for non-Indigenous students did not vary greatly by remoteness, and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students grew with increasing remoteness (Figure 2).

Reading and numeracy

The target to halve the gap in reading and numeracy by 2018 was assessed by measuring the difference in the proportion of students at or above the national minimum standard in National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results. Progress was tracked for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The latest formal assessment of progress against this target, based on 2017 data, showed that the target was not on track (PM&C 2019). The NAPLAN results for 2018 have since been released (ACARA 2018a) and do not show any dramatic changes from 2017 results. However, the official Australian Government assessment of this target will be provided in the Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s report 2020.

The gap in the proportion of Indigenous students at or above the national minimum standard decreased for all year levels and in Reading and Numeracy between 2008 and 2018 (Figure 3). The greatest improvements for Indigenous children were in years 3 and 5 Reading and years 5 and 9 Numeracy. In these areas, the proportions of Indigenous students meeting the national minimum standard increased significantly, with the gap narrowing by about 10 percentage points in each of the four areas (ACARA 2018a).

Attainment of Year 12 or equivalent

Over the past decade, the gap in Year 12 or equivalent attainment rates for those aged 20–24 narrowed by around 12 percentage points. The target to halve the gap by 2020 is on track to be met (PM&C 2019). In 2006, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous attainment rates was 36 percentage points, decreasing to 24 percentage points in 2016.

Year 12 or equivalent attainment rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aged 20–24 increased between 2006 and 2016 (Figure 4). The attainment rate for Indigenous Australians increased by almost 18 percentage points, from 47% in 2006 to 65% in 2016. The rate for non-Indigenous Australians increased by around 5 percentage points, from 84% in 2006 to 89% in 2016 (PM&C 2019).

Higher education

While there is no dedicated Closing the Gap target for higher education, improvements have been made in university enrolments for Indigenous Australians over the last 10 years. The number of Indigenous students enrolled has more than doubled from 9,370 in 2007 to 19,261 in 2017 (DET 2014, 2018).

This period saw an almost 70% increase in the number of higher education completions by Indigenous students (PM&C 2019). However, Indigenous Australians were underrepresented in universities, comprising 1.3% of the domestic higher education student population, compared with 3.3% of the total Australian population (ABS 2018; DET 2018).

Progress against Closing the Gap targets

The Closing the Gap Prime Minister's Report 2019  reports progress against the 4 Closing the Gap targets related to education (PM&C 2019).

Two of the 4 Closing the Gap targets for education are assessed as on track:

  • Target on track to ensure 95% of Indigenous 4-year-olds are enrolled in early childhood education by 2025.
  • Target not on track to close the gap in school attendance by 2018.
  • Target not on track to halve the gap in reading and numeracy by 2018.
  • Target on track to halve the gap for Year 12 attainment rates by 2020 (PM&C 2019).

Note: Updated assessments will be released in the Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s report 2020.

 

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Indigenous education and skills and on progress on the education related Closing the Gap targets, see:

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2011. The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, October 2010: links between education and health. ABS cat. no. 4704.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018. Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2016. ABS cat. no. 3238.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.

ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) 2018a. NAPLAN achievement in reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy: national report for 2018. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 15 May 2019.

ACARA 2018b. National Report of Schooling in Australia Data Portal: Student Attendance. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 8 January 2019.

Biddle N & Cameron T 2012. Potential factors influencing Indigenous education participation and achievement. Research report for the National Vocational Education and Training Research Program. Adelaide: National Center for Vocational Education Research.

DET (Department of Education and Training) 2014. Selected Higher Education Statistics— 2007 Student data. Canberra: DET. Viewed 8 May 2019.

DET 2017. National Report: National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education—2015. Canberra: DET. Viewed 3 April 2019.

DET 2018. Selected Higher Education Statistics—2017 Student data. Canberra: DET. Viewed 8 May 2019.

FaHCSIA (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) 2013. Closing the Gap: Prime Minsters Report 2013. Canberra: FaHCSIA. Viewed 30 October 2018.

Hart M, Moore M & Laverty M 2017. Improving Indigenous Health through education. The Medical Journal of Australia 207(1):11–12.

PM&C (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) 2019. Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report 2019. Canberra: PM&C. Viewed 20 February 2019.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: School attendance rates, Year 1 to Year 10, 2014 to 2018

The line graph shows the school attendance rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian students in Year 1 to Year 10 between 2014 and 2018. School attendance rates have remained stable over this time, with the rate hovering around 83% for Indigenous students and around 93% for non-Indigenous students. The gap has remained at around 10 percentage points between 2014 and 2018.

Figure 2: School attendance rates, by Indigenous status and remoteness area, 2018

The column graph shows school attendance rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in 2018 by remoteness area. Indigenous: Major Cities 85.2%; Inner Regional 85.8%; Outer Regional 83.2%; Remote 75.8%; Very Remote 63.4%. Non-Indigenous: Major Cities 92.8%; Inner Regional 91.7%; Outer Regional 91.7%; Remote 91.4%; Very Remote 90.5%.

Figure 3: Proportion of students meeting the national minimum standard in reading and numeracy, by Indigenous status, 2008 to 2018

The line graph shows the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students reaching the national minimum standard in reading and numeracy, disaggregated by Year level, between 2008 and 2018. Generally, for all year levels, the non-Indigenous proportion remained similar over time, while the proportion of Indigenous students meeting the standard increased.

Figure 4: Year 12 or equivalent attainment rate, 20–24 year olds, 2006, 2011 and 2016

The line graph shows the Year 12 or equivalent attainment rate for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian 20–24 year olds in 2006, 2011 and 2016. Rates for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians have increased between 2006 and 2016. The attainment rate for Indigenous Australians increased by almost 18 percentage points from 47% in 2006 to 65% in 2016, and the rate for non-Indigenous Australians increased from 84% in 2006 to 89% in 2016.