Closing the Gap… as well as the digital divide

Closing the Gap… as well as the digital divide

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace recently launched the ‘Advancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan’ to supplement the Federal Government’s ongoing Closing the Gap program.

“This plan will target resources to lift the reading and numeracy outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander state school students in the early years (Prep to Year 3),” Minister Grace said.

“It also includes initiatives that promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander excellence and achievement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and medicine).”

The launch of the program comes after the state government made significant progress in improving the educational outcomes of Indigenous students.

This year’s NAPLAN test results saw an increase in Indigenous students scoring the National Minimum Standard or higher. Including results from 2018, the state saw “improvement in writing for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, in reading in Years 3, 7 and 9 and in spelling in Years 3, 7 and 9,” Minister Grace said.

In 2018 alone, the state saw 98.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students complete Year 12, securing either a Certificate of Education or Certificate of Individual Achievement.

This meant that the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in the state improved from 29.2% in 2008 to only 0.3%, Minister Grace said.

Under the new action plan, the Queensland Government is aiming to improve kindergarten participation, lift school education outcomes, develop culturally appropriate teaching and learning resources, and provide further professional development opportunities for staff.

For the development of the action plan, Minister Grace said they engaged 220 individuals and 71 organisations from various sectors, such as the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Training Advisory Committee, early childhood, schooling and training stakeholders.

A university-private sector partnership to boost literacy

Taking advantage of opportunities to leverage the educational benefits of technology, the University of Notre Dame Australia is looking to boost digital literacy of the Indigenous community in Broome as well.

The University struck a partnership with Illuminance Soution, an ICT consultancy firm, to provide a digital literacy program not only for students, but also adults in the local Indigenous community.

“Unfortunately, there is a digital divide emerging in Australia,” he says, “particularly among Aboriginal communities, with the problem compounded by the rapid rate of technological advancements,” Illuminance CEO Nilesh Makwana said.

“As Australia becomes increasingly digitised, it’s crucial that our nation’s first people have equal opportunities to participate in education and employment.”

The University noted that almost 50% of Indigenous households in the remote parts of the country have no access to internet in their homes.

Even more alarming, research from the eSafety Commissioner has reported that Indigenous women commonly experience online abuse, stalking and restricted access to technology as part of domestic violence they experience.

The study found that Indigenous women who are victims of domestic violence are held back from seeking help due to low digital literacy, limited understanding and even by their culture of sharing phones.

The eSafety Commission said it will release new resources to help Elders and Indigenous women deal with technology-related abuse in their community by 2020.

But as a start, Notre Dame’s digital literacy program will train the Indigenous community about the basics of Microsoft programs.

Clare Stanford, Notre Dame’s COO, said the University’s Broome Campus’ program is also part of their commitment to support Reconciliation.

“Students in the Kimberley are geographically disadvantaged and digital literacy is a critical component of any effort to bring about educational equity to Aboriginal people in this region,” she said.

The joint initiative of Notre Dame and Illuminance will be formally launched in Perth this month at the 2019 West Tech Assemblage.