The Commission on Social Determinants of Health, a part of WHO, has shown compelling evidence that quality of life and health are determined by social factors that entrench inequities in the health sector among persons do not originate from lack of community based services or hospitals pa se, but rather from the government's failure in addressing the social determinants of health (WHO, 2008, p.14). These determinants are the social and economic conditions that help in shaping an individual's life as well as that of jurisdictions and communities (Raphael, 2009, p. 12). While social safety net, housing, food, and health care services, are important, recent studies reveal that education attainment levels is a strong indicator on the quality of life as well as of long term health.
There are a number of pathways that are interrelated via which attainment of education is related to health (Braveman, Egerter & Williams, 2011, p. 381). Attainment of higher education can lead to enhanced health as the more the educated persons are, the higher the likelihood of them making better decisions with regard to their health as well as that of their families (Sanders, Federico, & Klass et al., 2009, p. 131).Attainment of higher education can also play a part in shaping health with reference to employment opportunities which in turn impacts the economic resources' determinants. Persons that are more educated will have a lesser likelihood of being unemployed a factor that is related strongly to higher mortality and poorer health outcomes (Palmer, 2014 p, 1; Fletcher, & Frisvold, 2009, p. 144). Attainment of higher education can also influence health through psychological and social factors' impact such as greater perception of personal control l (Li & Powdthavee, 2015, p. 83), which has often been related to enhanced health and also behaviours that are health related (Leeves & Soyiri, 2014, p. 1), social standing that is relatively higher as well as enhanced social support (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2013, p. 11). All these factors are linked in one way or more to enhanced mental and physical health (Cutler & Lleras, 2014, p. 232).
The current status of Indigenous education
Closing the gap in school attendance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous in five years ending in 2018.
In the first semester of 2016, the Indigenous students' attendance rate was at 83.4% which was 10% lower in comparison to non-Indigenous attendance rate which stood at 93.1%. While the gap is quite sizeable, the data indicates that on any given school day, the majority of Indigenous students are regular school attendees. The rate of change in attendance has been negligible among children between 2014 and 2016 which was 83.5% and 83.4% respectively. The rate of school attendance among the Indigenous communities between 2014 nad2016 in States and territories was minimal .The changes were lower than 15 apart from the 1.66% difference witnessed in the Northern Territory. In 2016, there were no jurisdictions that met the target (Dept of Prime Minister, 2017).
In 2016, the year 9 numeracy was consistent with the expected national level trajectory as one of the eight areas while the remained of seven areas recorded lower results in meeting the target. The 2016 results were below those of 2015 where four areas were on track. Checking for improvement of Indigenous students is another way of looking at the results at the local and territorial level. The four areas that recorded improvement were reading in year 3 and 5; and numeracy in year 5 and 9. No significant change was observed in reading in year 7 and 9 and numeracy in year 3 and 7 between 2008 and 2016.
The results varied across territories and States with the Northern territory recording the lowest Indigenous students; NMS proportion for every area that was measured. The results were a partial reflection of the patterns observed in remote areas as the Northern territory has the highest number of Indigenous students in the country. Queensland recorded the largest improvement where 6 of the 8 measures were met with the two exceptions being numeracy in year 7 and reading in year 9. generally, 14 of the total 64 measures at the state level showed improvement (this was four year levels showing improvement in literacy and reading in eight territories) In the 8 result areas and jurisdictions, 29 out of the 64 measures were consistent or surpassed the expected trajectory. However, the Northern territory failed to be on track in all the 8 areas while the opposite was true for the Capital territory (Dept of Prime Minister, 2017).
The rates of year 12 attainment in 2008-2014/15 for Indigenous groups aged 20-24 years increased to 61.5% from 45.4% while the same age group of non-Indigenous Australian rates rose to 86.4% from 85.0%. The gap has narrowed by 14.7% to 24.9 % from 39.6% in this period.
All territories and states recorded an increase in attainment of year 12 or equivalent with results of states that were on track recorded for Australian Capital South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory. More recent data showed increases in year 12 attainment in Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia, and Australian Capital Territory (Dept of Prime Minister, 2017).
Evidence shows that university graduates from Indigenous communities find employment at a relatively faster rate than the non-Indigenous counterparts with commencing salaries that are higher too. The rate of employment among graduate Indigenous university graduates is very high with more than 74% of these graduates finding full time employment in comparison to 70.9% of their counterparts in 2016.
The number of Indigenous students enrolled for higher education awards increased by 93% between 2005 and 2015 compared to 47% among domestic students. The enrolment rates among Indigenous students increases exponentially with the students representing 1.5% of domestic award students' enrolments a figure that has increased from 1.2 in 2005. The Indigenous female cohort comprised of 66% in comparison to 56% of all females in higher education. Data collected from 20111 indicate that Indigenous Australians had high employment levels if they had bachelor's qualifications or higher n comparison to those who had Certificate II or lower qualifications as well as those that had no qualifications post school (Dept of Prime Minister, 2017).
Why there is school non-attendance
A student' decision to miss out on school involves individual, school, and home factors although there is contention on the causes of non-attendance. While pupils and parents often cite factors that are school related as the main cause, teachers and jurisdiction education staff are of a different opinion and believe home environment and parental attitudes have more influence on non-attendance decisions. Research done locally and internationally indicates that the reasons for non-attendance are dynamic in accordance to modern life developments. Across different countries, the reasons are consistent and have been summarized by Reid (2008, p. 345) as shown in Box 1 in Appendix 1. Reasons that are Indigenous specific have been proposed (Biddle, 2007) most of which are related to the lack of schools' recognition of Indigenous history and culture; community and careers; lack of parental full engagement; and continuous disadvantage in the daily lives of Indigenous communities across different areas in Australia.
Non-attendance and resulting consequences
When children miss out on school on a regular basis, their education gets to be disrupted. A student that fails to attend school for more than a full day every week will lose a total of 2 years of education in a period of 10 years (Western Australia: Office of the Auditor General 2009). Several reports have highlighted the need for children to attend school regularly in order to achieve critical skills such as numeracy and literacy. The reports have also indicated that achieving education levels that are adequate is a key contributor to the elimination of Indigenous disadvantage. Researchers have also shown the school attendance level of a student impact the overall academic achievement. These studies also conclude that the education of a child is at risk if their non-attendance spans beyond half a day of school every week (non-attendance that is less than 90%) (Biddle, 2014, p 10; Purdie & Buckley, 2010, p. 3).
The problem of poor school attendance is well documented and accounts for the gap that exists between numeracy and literacy outcomes between the Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous Australian populations (Mahuteau, Karmel, & Mayromaras et al., 2015, p. 15). Students that a report the highest non-attendance rates have a higher likelihood of leaving school and have an even lesser likelihood of pursuing alternative pathways of training and education (Mahuteau et al., 2015, p. 15). Research also indicates that there is a positive relationship between criminal activity and failure of persons to complete their high school education (Silburn, McKenzie, & Guthridge, et al., 2014).
Behrendt and McCausland (2008, p.7) suggest an evidence based approach in order to increase the number of Indigenous students that attend school and remain there. The researchers suggest the utilization of strategies that have been proven to be effective as opposed to utilizing resource strategies which have no backing from any evidence. This advice is very critical. However, the available evidence on Indigenous students' retention and attendance strategies is quite weak. One common feature with education programs that have shown to be successful is collaboration that is creative which builds bridges in an intentional manner, between the community and the public agencies, through the engagement of community based organizations or participation of parents (Behrendt & McCausland 2008, p.10). Therefore, it is highly recommended that interagency partnerships be built and fostered. For instance, focusing on every aspect of early childhood is critical when it comes to engaging Indigenous communities now and in the future (Ockenden, 2014, p. 3). This will require that the entire children development needs in early childhood be met so as to encourage better chances for growth in the children's' education. Hence, housing and health are factors of primary concern that will need to be catered for, this is in addition to parent education. Where such strategies are in their infant stages, they should be exploited and encouraged by education policy makers, communities, families, students, and teachers.
Policymakers and education practitioners ought to be well versed with the crucial role that cultural factors play in schooling. They ought to continue developing programs and policies that take into consideration the history and culture of the Indigenous communities in addition to developing expanded understanding of what education engagement and participation encompasses.
The issue of student non-enrolment should also be given due attention just as non-attendance is. FaHCSIA (2009, p.4) asserts that there are approximately 20,000 children who have reached the minimum school going age and yet they have not been enrolled in any education center. Most of these children are mainly from Indigenous communities. There should be an increase in efforts with regard to identifying these children as well as their families and create a working relationship with them and the communities while supporting them to become more engaged with the schooling system.
Although continued investigations that are contextualised and small are recommended, larger research is necessary on engagement and participation issues. Unless research at a broader and bolder scale is done, there will be limited advancement because generalized practice and sound policy cannot be synthesized from findings that are a result of sampling done on a small scale from diverse communities. However, there are valid reasons why research on larger scale has not been done. It is time consuming and expensive, there is also resistance from an imposed culture that is historically hostile, and this is in addition to the limited quality on the methods of evaluation utilized (Purdie et al., 2010 p.6). Funding and support from the government is necessitated for evaluation research to take place. Any new improvement strategies programs should be founded on components of evaluation and monitoring. This should be inclusive of research guideline in evaluation of the advantage of the initiatives. The evaluations will need to be a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods of assessments. In addition, the research should be longitudinal to enable easier tracking of progress and for confirmation of the sustained positive outcomes from the programs. Testing on the programs' transferability with reference to other diverse contexts should also be done. When research is carried out in the context of this framework, Indigenous students as well as all other students will stand to benefit.
Finally, other than conducting comprehensive research within the said framework, the current procedures for data collection should be improved. An example is the National Report on Schooling in Australia MCEECDYA yearly report, which fails to disaggregate data on attendance based on area remoteness and also fails to include information on the source of data in the statistics annex. This weakness in collection of data should be avoided and more so because the National Indigenous Reform Agreement of the Council of Australian Government has identified rates of attendance based on geo-locations as being one of the progress assessment performance indicators toward the target of Closing the Gap to reducing by 50% , the gap for year 12 Indigenous students' attainment or equivalent rates of attainment by the year 2020.
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