Education And Employment For Indigenous Australians

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Wicked problems are often seen as issues holding unachievable solutions, with a focus on investigating the issue and finding means to mitigate its impact rather than seeking an instant solution. Wicked problems can include issues such as homelessness, climate change, and social inequality, as they are multifaceted and are separate from simple or complicated issues because of their changing requirements which traditional problem solving cannot solve. This essay will discuss the issue of education and employment for Indigenous Australians.

Access to education and employment greatly affect an individual’s sense of social inclusion as it allows them the opportunity to succeed in society, opening doors to career paths, stable incomes, and knowledge. The ability to access socially valued resources such as education and employment are affected by one another, having a knock-on effect on other aspects such as technology, housing, health care, and the justice system. An imbalance of these resources for Indigenous Australians can cause experiences of social exclusion in society, with restricted access to opportunities often resulting in a generational cycle of social disadvantage.

According to the Australian Government for Education, “Employment opportunities are further increased for students who go on to obtain tertiary qualifications”, and although Indigenous Australian student's attendance within the school has been relatively stable between 2014 (83.5%) and 2017 (83.2%), when compared to attendance rates of non-Indigenous students (93%) there is a clear disparity; reiterated as 2017 statistics show 77.1% of all students attended school 90% or more of the time, while Indigenous students only attended 48.8% of the time.

Factors responsible for declining qualities of attendance and education could be due to the geographic/socioeconomic areas in which Indigenous students live, knowing that attendance rates are higher in metropolitan areas, and lower in more remote areas. This is illustrated by a 22.2% gap existing between Indigenous attendance within regional areas (86.8%), and Indigenous students within very remote areas (64.6%). Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander populations are distributed throughout Australia with 34.8% living in major cities, 43.8% in regional areas, and 13.7% in very remote areas. With very remote areas having 30.1% lesser Indigenous populations than regional areas, a 22.2% drop in attendance rates mean a larger ratio of these students isn’t attending school.

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According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, other implications for attending school education in remote areas include “limited access to educational services as well as other resources such as libraries and information technology. Road access may be limited during times of the year and during wet season periods, there may be no access for months on end. If internet access is available in remote Australia, it is usually via satellite, offering a dial-up service with limited and slow internet speeds.” This statement highlights different issues that students in remote areas face outside of schooling facilities themselves, with factors such as poor attendance levels partially attributed to the struggle getting to and from school, and poor studying conditions due to a lack of access to scholarly resources.

To combat some of these implications of unequal levels of education between Indigenous students within metropolitan and remote areas, the development of the government-funded program ‘Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS) has worked to improve schools with ‘school attendance officers’ ensuring the students’ attendance. This is achieved through working with schools, families, parents, and community organizations in developing local plans to get children to school as well as support which includes “working with families, to offer support, strategies to support enrolment, assistance to traveling and mobile families, nutrition programs and rewards and incentives programs for students with impaired attendance or behavior”. This educational inclusion is important as it works to close a gap in attendance of Indigenous students within remote areas, attempting to raise education levels equal to that of non-Indigenous students and those in metropolitan areas. Through this push for education, greater opportunities for tertiary studies and careers are made possible along with increased incomes after higher paying jobs. Within the 78 remote schools, the program is implemented, attendance rates have increased by 3-4% in almost half (48%) of them since they began in 2014. Although visible, this rise in attendance levels isn’t ideal; however, 98% of staff employed by RSAS identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Even though its effectiveness isn’t ideal RSAS serves both as employment for locals to enter the workforce and as encouragement for indigenous students.

Employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians are heavily linked to levels of education as Creative Spirits states that “if you hadn’t an adequate house for shelter you wouldn’t be able to sit down and learn. And without education, you wouldn’t be able to get a high-paying job.”

This is reiterated by statistics of median household income for Indigenous Australians which have made relative gains (from $908 in 2011/$1203 in 2016), yet non-Indigenous households continue to earn over $200 more on average ($1,234 in 2011/$1438 in 2016). Lower household incomes can result in poorer quality of life for both caretakers and those being cared for (children, and other family members), with possible effects on the educational opportunities provided.

2011 ABS statistics also highlight that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were 20.5% less likely to be participating in the labor force than non-Indigenous people of the same age (55.9% compared to 76.4%). Levels of Indigenous employment differ across geographic locations as major cities and metropolitan areas were found to have a 16% unemployment rate while remote areas had a rate of 23%. This may be due to various factors such as levels of education and lack of educational opportunities provided in remote areas, employment opportunities in remote areas, after, and/or the enforcement of laws and workplace legislation against discrimination being more heavily regulated within metropolitan areas with greater awareness of one’s rights. Impacts of this exclusion affect Indigenous communities through the ‘passing on’ of disadvantage throughout generations, with other factors of life affected as a result of unemployment and low income such as welfare dependence and lower levels of housing and health; for example, through the inability to afford rent/access nutritional foods. These factors can contribute to Indigenous levels of crime rates as issues of “alcohol and substance abuse, lack of services of any kind, high unemployment rates, low levels of education, and child abuse' leading to the Aboriginal community comprising 27.3% of Australia’s total incarceration rates.

Federal anti-discrimination laws such as the ‘Fair Work Act 2009’ protect people from “discrimination based on their race including color, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status sex, pregnancy or marital status and breastfeeding age, disability, or sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.” However, discrimination still occurs with 2014 findings stating that 31% of those surveyed witnessed employment discrimination against Indigenous Australians while 9% admit they discriminate in this context.

As an employer, it is illegal to discriminate based on one’s ethnicity/race. However, they can access grants and support programs to help employ Indigenous Australians such as Indigenous Cadetship Support (ICS) which “links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students with employers who want to offer work placements and ongoing employment.” by providing payments to employers so they can support cadets with a living and study allowance. A wage subsidy is also available to employers when employing eligible Indigenous job seekers who have completed six months in employment services, pushing for increased social inclusion within the workforce for Indigenous people. 

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