In search of the common wealth : Indigenous education inequality in Australia

  • Jennifer Dean

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research examines factors influencing education inequality among Indigenous Australians. The value of education has been recognised by Australian governments in previous decades through the introduction of expansionary policies encouraging participation across all sectors. Yet it is still the case that neither educational opportunities nor outcomes are distributed evenly. Research has shown that levels of education are likely to be influenced by factors including race, socioeconomic status and location. Indeed, profound levels of education inequality have been observed for Indigenous Australians, and the colonial experience has resulted in overwhelming challenges due to the collective histories they have experienced. In the colonial period, this disadvantage was manifest in the separation of people on the basis of race and racial identification, as well as restrictions in mobility, employment, levels of community, welfare provision, and education policies and practice. Since then, differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have been maintained both socially and spatially, and the longer-term effects of colonialism have meant that Indigenous people in the poorest communities continue to experience substantial levels of educational and other forms of disadvantage. Using a structural and relational framework, the aims of this research are to examine the interrelationship between place, race and socioeconomic status in influencing Indigenous schooling outcomes, and the association between institutional effects, segregation and Indigenous children’s school achievement. The research uses microdata from the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, and data combining the 2011 National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy and the 2011 Census of Population and Housing to support the analyses. It has a focus on literacy and numeracy achievement for children in the middle primary school years. In line with the hypothesis that colonisation processes have resulted in spatial concentrations of disadvantage for Indigenous people in Australia, a research strategy is adopted which investigates the nature of the schooling inequality and levels of disadvantage experienced by Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
Considering the outcomes of the most vulnerable in a society may give the best indication of how effectively that society is able to draw upon its resources, embodied in the notion of the ‘common wealth.’ I argue that differences in levels of school socioeconomic composition and segregation both structure and maintain Indigenous children’s inequality in schooling outcomes, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged schools and communities. This research explores the importance of structural factors in understanding how education inequality might persist or be ameliorated. The findings demonstrate relationships between socioeconomic status, school composition and segregation, and have important implications for Indigenous people in low socioeconomic status schools and communities.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMoo Sung Lee (Supervisor), Pam Christie (Supervisor) & Jenny Chesters (Supervisor)

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