The release of 2001 Census data provides an opportunity to evaluate the Howard government’s performance in Indigenous affairs in broad terms. One major policy shift has been the call for a more ‘practical’ reconciliation that attempts to address the immediate needs of Indigenous people in areas such as employment, health, housing and education. If practical reconciliation were a reality, then one would expect there to be some evidence of a convergence in the last two censuses in the economic and educational status of Indigenous and other Australians. Furthermore, enhancing Indigenous education is important in ensuring that Indigenous engagement with the mainstream economy is sustainable, especially in view of the skill bias evident in recent economic growth.
This paper analyses recent trends in the engagement of Indigenous people with the Australian education system between 1986 and 2001. A cohort analysis of changes in educational participation is presented, along with an analysis of the differences between the level and type of educational qualifications of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians over the last four censuses. The main finding is that while there have been some absolute improvements in Indigenous educational outcomes over the period 1986 to 2001, these gains are less evident when measured relative to non-Indigenous outcomes. The lack of improvement relative to the non-Indigenous population is seen not only in the proportion of the population with post-secondary qualifications, but also in the proportion of Indigenous teenagers staying at school. By any measure the Indigenous population remains severely disadvantaged. Another finding is that for younger age groups the non-Indigenous population has a higher participation rate in post-secondary education than the Indigenous population. On a more positive note, older Indigenous people are actually more likely to be enrolled in a post-secondary course than their non-Indigenous counterparts—probably as a response to the history of disadvantage within the education sector.
ISBN: 0 7315 5624 0