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Close the gap: 3 quick facts about Indigenous education

The Closing the Gap 2019 report tabled in Federal parliament on 14 February outlines targets that have been met and those which have not been met across a range of areas relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

These include education, with the report highlighting key gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in areas such as literacy, numeracy and school enrolment.

The report also identifies three key areas the education system is delivering poorer results for Indigenous boys and young men, when compared with Indigenous girls and young women.

These are:

  • Attendance rates
  • Attainment rates
  • University enrolment rates

Attendance rates

While many factors contribute to learning outcomes, poor school attendance has been linked to lower achievement in numeracy, writing and reading

Across the board, around three quarters of all students attended school 90 per cent or more of the time in 2018. This means a quarter of Australian children are not attending school consistently.

Levels of consistent attendance are lower again among Indigenous students, with Indigenous boys having the lowest levels of inconsistent attendance:

  • 23% of non-Indigenous students don’t attend school consistently
  • 51% of Indigenous students don’t attend school consistently
  • 44% of Indigenous girls don’t attend primary school consistently
  • 48% of Indigenous boys don’t attend primary school consistently
  • 59% of Indigenous girls don’t attend secondary school consistently
  • 62% of Indigenous boys don’t attend secondary school consistently

Attainment rates

Nationally, the proportion of Indigenous 20–24 year olds who had achieved Year 12 attainment or equivalent increased was 65 per cent in 2016, compared with 89% of non-Indigenous 20–24 year olds

In addition to the 24-point gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people, there is also a smaller gender gap between young Indigenous men and women.

The proportion of young Indigenous women (aged 20–24) who had achieved Year 12 attainment or equivalent in 2016 was 3 percentage points higher when compared with young non-Indigenous men.

University Enrolment

University enrolments by Indigenous Australians have increased significantly over the past decade, however young men remain significantly under-represented in higher education.

Among domestic award students, women are 38% more likely to be enrolled in higher education than men. Among Indigenous students, Indigenous women are now twice as like to attend university than Indigenous men.

The report acknowledges that efforts should aim to maintain and increase the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men entering into higher education as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are significantly more represented at university.

Other areas of concern

The report acknowledges that the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers needs to be improved, as they are significantly under-represented in the education workforce. The report also acknowledges the need for greater numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the higher education workforce to ensure that all Australians are able to better benefit from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and perspectives.

The report doesn’t consider the need for great gender balance in the educational workplace, although previous research has acknowledged the lack of men in the teaching workforce in general and the under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island male teachers in particular.

Why is this a men’s health issue?

Education is one of the key social factors that shape our lives and our health. Lower levels of education can be linked to shorter life expectancy, poorer physical and mental health, lower wages, higher risk of unemployment and greater exposure to crime.

In simple terms, the better your education the better your health. As far as boys are concerned, the education system delivers better results for girls at every stage


Broadly speaking, the longer people stay in school, the longer they can expect to live. This is a key reason why boys’ education is a men’s health issue. The education system is also a setting that deals directly with children experiencing health issues, with a significant number of children seeking informal support from school friends, teachers and other school staff.


Read: Close the Gap: 3 quick facts about Indigenous male life expectancy

Read: Aboriginal men’s group helps close health gap

Read the Closing The Gap Report 2019 (PDF)

Find out more about Closing The Gap Day (Website) 

Read: Strong Dads Strong Futures study engages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island men in parenting research


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