This year’s NAPLAN results make it blisteringly clear that serious education reform is needed.
They show 1 in 10 students across the country are below the minimum standard for literacy and numeracy.
That’s not a surprise, because this year we deliberately raised the bar or the minimum standard that students now have to meet.
But what is really concerning is this: one in three children from poor families and from remote areas are below that minimum standard. And so are one in three Indigenous students.
A lot of those students are in our public schools.
And if you look at NAPLAN results over the last 10 years, you’ll find that many of the children who fall behind, never catch up.
Only one in five children who are below the minimum standard in year 3 are above it by the time they’re in year 9. Only one in five catch up.
And if you think that’s bad, wait for this. Of all those Indigenous students who are below the minimum standard in 3rd Grade, it’s not one in five who catch up, it’s around one in 17.
Indigenous students are three times more likely to be below the minimum standard. And three times more likely to stay there.
What a waste of potential.
The next National School Reform Agreement Education Ministers develop next year is a chance to fix funding and fix things like this.
To tie funding to the sort of things that will help children who fall behind to catch up, keep up and finish school.
One of those things is catch up tutoring, where children who need extra help come out of their regular class and get the extra help they need in a small group.
I’ve seen it work in Indigenous communities. I’ve seen it work in my own local community. One teacher, a couple of students. 50 minutes a day. Four days a week. In 18 weeks, they learn as much as a child is expected to learn in a year. They catch up.
But none of this means a Voice to Parliament isn’t also needed.
If we want things to change, we can’t just change what we do, we have got to change the way we do things.
It’s not just what we do in the classroom that makes a difference.
Everything from health to housing to employment can have an impact.
If a child is sick, if they don’t have a proper roof over their head, if their parents don’t have a job, that all affects how they go at school.
This is where the Voice can help. It can help being all of this together.
Aussies are practical people.
We know a lot of Indigenous Australians live pretty tough lives and we want our taxpayer dollars spent on things that will actually work.
They are not working at the moment. Almost everything Canberra politicians have tried over the last few decades hasn’t worked.
The gap between black and white Australia hasn’t closed. It’s barely budged.
In some places, it’s gotten worse, despite everything that Labor governments and Liberal governments have done or have tried to do.
In a few weeks’ time we get the chance to do what should have happened 122 years ago. We can recognise the fact that people were here before Captain Cook arrived and put this in the Constitution.
And we can do something to help improve the lives of other Aussies, including all those Indigenous children who fall behind and never catch up.
We’ve got nothing to fear from listening and a lot to gain: better results and a better use of taxpayer money.
That’s something worth voting for.
This opinion piece was first published in the Hobart Mercury.