There is a major issue that mitigates against Indigenous students in many parts of Australia ever achieving satisfactorily at a school level. That issue is “school attendance“.

For many decades, the most significant challenge in education that has confronted these students is that of sporadic school attendance. It’s small wonder that children grow up to become adults who are very minimally educated and for all intents and purposes, often illiterate. Far too many indigenous students decline to attend school day after day, week after week, month after month, and indeed year after year. Then when they leave school there is a general caterwauling about the fact that they are not ready to enter the workplace because of poor education.

It’s generally the educational system and educators who get canned for this failure.

Perhaps the Shimpo Report of 1976 titled “A Social Process of Education” goes some way toward explaining why parents, including those who had the benefit of mission based education, were/are prepared to support the truant habits of their children and grandchildren.

Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on programs that have been designed to overcome chronic truancy and to encourage school attendance. In recent years the most notable of these was the Commonwealth Department of Education employing hundreds of people in remote communities throughout Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia, and W.A., to help children transit from home to school. These people wore yellow shirts and as they were employed during the period of Nigel Scullion being the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the Federal Parliament, they became known as “Nigel’s Army”. I remember at one stage a figure of $28 million being quoted as the cost associated with employing these people.

This program along with many others put into place over time has ofcourse gone by the bye.

Expectations about indigenous student attendance at school are almost sinister. When Bruce Wilson reviewed Indigenous Education in the NT in his report published in 2014, he identified chronic school non attendance as a major drawback for students. However in suggesting this needed to be corrected if children were to achieve, he suggested that a school attendance of 60% (three days of every five) would be a good outcome.

I cannot accept that proposition for a minute. School attendance needs to be full time if students are to become achievers. A 60% attendance rate leaves a 40% gap in meaningful learning opportunities and that is just not good enough.

Investment in programs aimed at overcoming truancy has been long term and ongoing for many decades. But success in overcoming the issue has not and will not work. It will not work unless and until families and children themselves take responsibility for school attendance. That cannot hinge on inducements because the desire to learn has to become a motivation within itself.

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