Commonwealth and Northern Territory education policies are failing remote Indigenous students, with few able to pass basic writing tests, teachers say.
Less than 15 per cent of NT students in remote Indigenous communities attend school four days a week, the Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages in the NT says.
Indigenous education policy consistently ignores the eight out of 10 students in remote communities that speak one of the more than 100 Aboriginal languages and dialects spoken in the NT.
“Applying the same education policies to students who are culturally and linguistically different doesn’t result in equity,” said Fran Murray, the ATESOL NT representative to the Australian Council of TESOL Associations.
“In fact, it’s widening the gap, not closing it.”
Ms Murray told AAP it was a student’s human right to access education in a language they actually speak.
But NT students are routinely required to sit English NAPLAN tests, which they cannot understand.
As a result, they’re told to guess answers by colouring in the bubbles on the test pages.
In response to disastrous NAPLAN results, the NT government imported American and British remedial literacy programs at a cost of more than $25 million, ATESOL NT said.
Instructors from America flew to remote NT communities several times a year but the program was deemed a failure and cancelled in 2018.
A British remedial literacy program is currently in place, but its content assumes that students live in England and ignores the need for Indigenous language speakers to develop spoken English as a basis for reading in English.
Restricted secondary schooling options also limit most remote Aboriginal secondary students to NT or interstate boarding schools after the community-based Employment Pathways program was terminated.
With pathways blocked to secondary education and limited employment opportunities, these young people were at increased risk of being caught up in the justice system, ATESOL NT said.
The NT government’s education funding formula has also been criticised, with ATESOL NT saying it relies on student attendance to determine resources, leading to some remote school’s budgets being slashed by 50 per cent.
“These schools are now locked in a vicious cycle of shrinking budgets that lead to lower attendance, causing further funding cuts,” it said.
ATESOL NT said the NT had also routinely failed to employ qualified Aboriginal teachers, assistant teachers and English language teachers in remote schools.
With reduced and insecure budgets, remote schools have cut Aboriginal staffing and cannot attract or retain qualified English language teachers, it says.
According to ATESOL NT, just 14 per cent of very remote Indigenous students attended school four days a week in 2020, with numbers likely to have fallen further in 2021.
Less than four per cent of year nine remote Indigenous students met minimum writing standards in 2019.
ATESOL NT has made 32 recommendations in submissions to the federal parliamentary inquiry into adult literacy and its importance.
The NT education minister has been contacted for comment.