Education is generally considered to be a key factor in improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians. Higher levels of educational attainment improve employment prospects, which in turn, affect income, standard of housing and access to health care (SEWRSBEC 2000). Education also provides the necessary skills to better access and utilise health and community services and information about welfare (Boughton 2000).
Participation in education by Indigenous Australians continues to slowly increase across all sectors (schools, universities, and vocational education and training (VET)). The number of Indigenous people who have attained a non-school qualification has also increased. Yet despite these improvements, the educational participation and attainment of Indigenous Australians remain below that of other Australians. This is due in part to the high proportion of Indigenous students who experience chronic health problems, such as middle ear infection and nutritional deficiencies, which negatively affect their school attendance and learning outcomes. Other factors that affect participation in education include lack of access to educational institutions, financial constraints and social, cultural and language barriers.
This chapter presents an overview of the educational participation and attainment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and outlines some of the ways in which education and health are interlinked within the Indigenous population. This chapter draws on a range of data sources, including the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), the National Schools Statistics Collection, the Higher Education Statistics Collection, VET statistics and various academic research papers. Comparisons over time are included where possible.