There are strong two-way links between health and education.
Access to education is an important ‘social determinant’ of health (see information sheet number 3), and links to other
factors, like poverty, unemployment, quality of housing and access to primary health services. People who have low educational
• fewer life opportunities;
• poorer health;
• lower incomes; and
• are more likely to be unemployed.
It’s a vicious cycle: poor health also leads to poor educational attainment. Early childhood health effects education1
Research shows that the health of mother and child has lifelong effects on learning and
• The ability to learn is affected by biological processes occurring before birth
2.• Malnutrition of the mother can have damaging effects on the fetus
3. Fifteen percent of very low birth weight children and nearly 5% of low birth weight children
need special education compared to about 4% of children born at normal birth weight
4.• Brain development, both before and after birth, influences health, learning and
behavior throughout the individual’s life
5. Brain development is rapid in the first three years of life (growing to 90 percent of adult
weight), and much of a child’s capacity for learning is established during this time.
• Infectious diseases in early childhood can affect nutrition, growth and mental
stimulation at a crucial time when children are developing rapidly.
In Australia, Indigenous babies are twice as likely to be of low birth weight than nonIndigenous
6. The rate of hospitalization of Indigenous children under four years for infectious diseases is three
times the rate for non-Indigenous children
7. Chronic middle ear infection (otitis media) and subsequent hearing loss impair language development and education
• Lack of essential services in health and welfare, or poor access to them, impact
on students. It is important to remember that there has been a long history of neglect and indifference. Many older Indigenous people had little education and bad experiences at school.
Today, chronic disease of the child or family members, or family or community dysfunction can lead to absenteeism.
Mainstream schools can be alienating for Indigenous students: teachers generally don’t have training in cross-cultural
awareness or in teaching English as a second language in communities where Indigenous languages are spoken. An
Indigenous school principal claims there are widespread expectations among teachers that Indigenous children will do poorly at school.
He describes a mindset that accepts absenteeism and poor educational outcomes from Indigenous students as ‘normal’ (see case study below)
11. In contrast, schools with high Indigenous attendance levels attribute their success to well-trained teachers who can build a
rapport with Indigenous students and develop individualized learning plans
12.Implications of poor educational outcomes The continuing poor educational outcomes for Indigenous students impact almost
immediately on their future educational opportunities as well as their post-school options and employment rate. One of the
major labor market disadvantages experienced by Indigenous people is their relatively low level of education.