International day of World’s Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education


‘International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples’ was established in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations on August 9 1982. This meeting focused on the promotion and protection of Human Rights for Indigenous peoples. 2016’s theme is ‘Indigenous People’s Right to Education’. Access to quality education and support is foundational for better outcomes in all areas of life.

Education is a basic right that is afforded to all people, and is reinforced through several international agreements:

  • UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
    • “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.” (Article 14)
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    • Everyone has the right to education” (Article 26)
  • Sustainable Development Goals
    • “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” (Goal 4)

The Australian government has been working towards three educational goals through its ‘Closing the Gap Initiative’. These goals are to:

  1. Close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years (by 2018).
  2. Halve the gap for Indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy achievements within a decade (by 2018).
  3. Halve the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates (by 2020).

The 2016 progress report on the Closing the Gap initiative shows that while Australia is on track to meeting some of these goals, it is falling behind significantly on others, particularly in remote areas. The report does, however, recognise the importance of focusing on education in order to address the inequality that currently exists between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. It states: “At higher levels of education, there is virtually no employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In contrast, those with low educational attainment tend to have poorer health outcomes, lower incomes and reduced employment prospects.”

In Australia’s Universal Periodic Review conducted in November 2015, the UN committee recognised the progressive steps that Australia was making, yet recommended that more must be done in terms of ensuring adequate education for all Indigenous Australians, particularly focusing on the area of early childhood education.

In addition to the current measures of addressing inequalities, the ‘2016 Redfern Statement’ from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, calls on the federal government to commit to a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative body for Education. It is hoped that such a body would provide a voice for to influence policies that will support students and communities across all education systems.

Resources for more information:

United Nations
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

Closing The Gap Report

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014-15

System-Wide Action Plan On the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples:

Interactive Language Map

Higher Education Case Study – Sydney University

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