How the government is closing the gap

The federal government's Closing the Gap: Prime Minister's Report 2012 an annual report detailing the government's initiatives to close the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population has found that a number of the goals proposed in the 2011 report have seen improvement.

The previous 2011 report identified the need to ensure full access to early childhood education in all remote communities by 2013; halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievement by Indigenous children by 2018; and halve the gap in Year 12 attainment rates by 2020.

Of these agendas, one of the most significant goals was to improve performance in literacy and numeracy by Indigenous students. A key indicator of performance is National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, which shows that there is a significant gap between the performance of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

The 2012 report has found that the gap in reading and numeracy competency has narrowed since 2010. The greatest improvements were seen in the results of Indigenous students performing at or above the national minimum standard in Year 3 numeracy (up by 7.0 percentage points) and Year 9 reading (up by 7.7 percentage points).

However, it is worth noting that a significant gap still exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Reading competency testing, for example, shows that 93.5 per cent of non-Indigenous Year 9 students are performing at or above the national minimum standard, compared to just 71.9 of Indigenous students. Results also vary across the states in Year 7 testing of reading competency, Indigenous students in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria perform at levels on average 10 “20 per cent below that of non-Indigenous students. In the Northern Territory, for example, just 42.9 per cent of Indigenous students meet the standard, compared to more than 90 per cent of non-Indigenous students.

Initiatives taken by the federal and state governments
The Commonwealth Government has announced several initiatives in recent years to help close the gap. Notably, the Early Childhood Education National Partnership a 2008 agreement designed to provide universal access to early childhood education by 2013 has provided funding of $955 million to achieve this goal.

Key actions of this initiative include:

  • additional funding to community pre-schools in New South Wales and increased support service subsidies for Indigenous children
  • state-funded kindergarten services (10.75 hours per week) for Indigenous children in Victoria whose families are in receipt of a concession card
  • increased kindergarten availability in Indigenous communities in Queensland, including mobile outreach programs in rural and regional areas where centre-based services are not available
  • a progressive roll-out of 15 hours of pre-school education per week in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The South Australian and Tasmanian state governments are working to improve attendance rates in early childhood education, while an in-home support and learning program is available in Victoria to service various Indigenous communities throughout the state.

Earlier this week, the government pledged to provide $583 million in funding over the next 10 years to ensure that all children in remote Northern Territory schools receive a quality education. It is hoped that this funding will improve teaching staff retention in remote NT communities, provide opportunities for professional development and deliver training programs to assist with the provision of specialist programs in the state's schools.

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