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Look beyond school attendance to long-term Indigenous education outcomes

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Assoc Prof Jihyun Lee of UNSW Sydney, an expert on large-scale testing, said that while it is possible that boosting school attendance in remote communities has a role to play, education policies need to look beyond getting children into school buildings, and consider the full range of community infrastructure that facilitates learning in the long-term.

“The government investment of $5 million on projects that support and promote school attendance in remote and very remote areas has been re-emphasised in the wake of the 2018 NAPLAN national report,” said Lee, referring to a media release issued by Education Minister Dan Tehan’s office.

The funding plan, said Lee, is tied to the Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS) that commenced in 2014, which has a particular focus on school attendance by Indigenous students. “Its main aim is to improve school attendance through employment of local School Attendance Supervisors and School Attendance Officers to work in local communities.”

However, Lee questions whether the plan is a sustainable solution in the long-term. “The government strategy is focused on human resources while other countries appear to invest more in educational infrastructure for the future generations,” she said.

Lee said that while it is important to consider the specific circumstances of Australia’s remote communities, there is also much that can be learned from looking abroad. In particular, she points to the role that the Internet plays in providing young people with access to knowledge. “The reality is that young students in developed countries learn a lot from a wealth of educational resources available on the Internet.”

“Australia’s Internet connection speed was ranked 50th out of 148 countries, with Korea, Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Finland, Singapore, Japan, Denmark, and United State in the top 10.”

“Australia needs to think about what students in remote and very remote areas will do if they face obstacles to attending school. We also need to admit that much of crucial learning occurs outside of school."

“While the short-term plan of bringing students to school may be beneficial, future-oriented strategies and investments should be a priority.”

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