Schooling for Kooris under fire

Age: December 7 2005

By Farrah Tomazin

INDIGENOUS students in Victorian schools are continuing to fall behind those in other states because of the Bracks Government's "lack of focus" when it comes to improving their education.

A Labor-dominated parliamentary committee has renewed concerns about retention rates among Victorian indigenous students and the Government's apparent failure to tackle some of the underlying problems.

The committee's report warns the Government to lift its game amid figures showing retention rates for indigenous students are below the national average, with many also struggling to meet national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy.

The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee report criticises the Government for not providing initiatives to improve indigenous education within its $800 million social policy package, which was released with much fanfare by Premier Steve Bracks this year.

While the Fairer Victoria package was designed to help disadvantaged groups, no money was offered to indigenous education, the report points out.

Australian Education Union branch president Mary Bluett said Victoria's comparatively small Aboriginal population meant indigenous students were often being neglected.

But Opposition education spokesman Victor Perton had a more scathing assessment. "The results are a disgrace and an indictment on the State Government's tolerance of illiteracy, innumeracy and truancy in both the black and white communities."

However, Tim Mitchell, the spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky, denied Koori students were being ignored.

He said the Education Department had been restructured to provide more support for the 137 indigenous students in metropolitan schools, while needs-based funding was also being used to target disadvantaged families.

When asked why no funding had been provided in this year's social policy package, Mr Mitchell said:

"That's not the only measure to target disadvantage … but the minister has said in the past that we can do better and we should do better."

Figures from the state Department of Education and Training show that only 70 per cent of year 3 indigenous students in Victoria reach national reading benchmarks, compared with 92 per cent of mainstream students.

A similar discrepancy exists in numeracy, where 79 per cent of indigenous students are reaching national targets compared to 95 per cent of mainstream students.

Retention rates are also a problem, with Victoria's rate for indigenous students in years 7 to 10 at 74.8 per cent, compared with the national 87.2 per cent.