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Poverty, unemployment, substance misuse, family violence and racial prejudice are some of the risk factors that influence a child’s access to education and affect school performance. In Australia, indigenous children are at greater risk of growing up in families that are disadvantaged in terms of the family educational environment.

Before considering the opportunities available for education, the playing field isn’t even level. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are two times more likely to die before the age of four than other Australian children of that age group and they suffer from nutritional anaemia at 30 times the rate of other children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are almost eight times as likely to be the subject of substantiated child abuse and neglect compared with other Australian children.

The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data highlights the poor developmental health of Indigenous children in their first year of full-time school. Specifically, a higher proportion of Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children were developmentally vulnerable on each of the five domains of physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language cognitive and communication skills and general knowledge, says Kate Clark, a field insight analyst for World Vision, citing the data.

Rich countries’ education systems are failing minorities, says UNESCO’s “Education For All” global monitoring report released earlier this year. While basic education and higher education have been improved and expanded in the past 50 years, this has not translated to a more equal society. Generally, social mobility has not increased, while economic inequality has.

World Vision Australia has identified 52 projects that require $32 million per annum of funding. Of the $32 million, about $10 million is needed initially for education programs in Australia and Pacific Island nations. The charity is inviting philanthropic individuals and groups to utilise their own professional networks and skills as well as offer financial support.

Education is critical to relieving poverty, boosting job opportunities and improving wellbeing outcomes. Investing the equivalent of 1.8% of GDP in improving learning would raise the per capita income growth rate by 1 percentage point per year, says UNESCO. Education’s potential to boost wider development goals can only be fully realised if access to education is equitable, which means making special effort to ensure that the marginalised can benefit equally from its transformative power.

World Vision has eight educational projects within Australia and Pacific Island nations that will benefit at least 27,000 children and youth. These include early childhood care and development projects with Warlpiri communities (Central Australia), Martu communities (Western Desert), and communities along the Gibb River Road (the Kimberley) and the Young Mob Leaders Program (Sydney), and education projects in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

The Young Mob Leaders Program requires $1.2 million next year. The program helps young Aboriginal people connect with culture, build self-esteem, learn leadership and life skills and stay in school, increasing employment opportunities and empowering them to be strong youth and community leaders. The project has grown from a public speaking activity into a comprehensive leadership program including a revamped school curriculum. World Vision Australia is looking for new partners to broaden the reach of the program.

The early childhood care and development projects need $5 million in funding to support Indigenous children and their families to access quality early childhood education, information and opportunities. Research has shown that the period from conception to the age of five is a time of both risk and opportunity, when a child’s physical, social and child-rearing environments have a disproportionately greater influence on the child’s developing biology and human capability than at any other time in life. Good nutrition, responsive care and psychosocial stimulation can have powerful protective benefits that optimise longer-term health and wellbeing.

Outside Australia, the education projects in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are hoping to raise $2 million. The programs will benefit more than 25,000 children. These projects work with men and women to improve their literacy skills and provide opportunities for vulnerable girls and boys to develop basic literacy, numeracy and life skills to set them up for primary school.

World Vision’s education mission in the Pacific Islands is to increase children’s access to quality early-childhood education and primary education, with special attention to girls. A higher level of education for mothers will lead to improved child survival rates. “If all women completed secondary education the under-5 mortality rate would fall by 49% in low and lower middle income countries,” says UNESCO.

“What we find in a lot of communities is education may be free and it may be mandatory and a lot of children may go but in many cases they learn very little,” says Ms Clark. “These countries are so close to Australia and we have got so much in common with them but they are really years behind in terms of educational opportunities.”

If you would like to join World Vision as a philanthropic partner on these significant projects please call 1300 303 401 or email [email protected]

Peter Fray

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