Pathways to school success: Self-regulation and executive function, preschool attendance and early academic achievement of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in Australia's Northern Territory

Vincent Yaofeng He, Georgie Nutton, Amy Graham, Lisa Hirschausen, Jiunn Yih Su

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background With the pending implementation of the Closing the Gap 2020 recommendations, there is an urgent need to better understand the contributing factors of, and pathways to positive educational outcomes for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children. This deeper understanding is particularly important in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia, in which the majority of Aboriginal children lived in remote communities and have language backgrounds other than English (i.e. 75%). 

Methods This study linked the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) to the attendance data (i.e. government preschool and primary schools) and Year 3 National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). Structural equation modelling was used to investigate the pathway from self-regulation and executive function (SR-EF) at age 5 to early academic achievement (i.e. Year 3 reading/numeracy at age 8) for 3,199 NT children. 

Result The study confirms the expected importance of SR-EF for all children but suggests the different pathways for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children. For non-Aboriginal children, there was a significant indirect effect of SR-EF (β = 0.38, p<0.001) on early academic achievement, mediated by early literacy/numeracy skills (at age 5). For Aboriginal children, there were significant indirect effects of SR-EF (β = 0.19, p<0.001) and preschool attendance (β = 0.20, p<0.001), mediated by early literacy/numeracy skills and early primary school attendance (i.e. Transition Years to Year 2 (age 5-7)). 

Conclusion This study highlights the need for further investigation and development of culturally, linguistically and contextually responsive programs and policies to support SR-EF skills in the current Australian education context. There is a pressing need to better understand how current policies and programs enhance children and their families' sense of safety and support to nurture these skills. This study also confirms the critical importance of school attendance for improved educational outcomes of Aboriginal children. However, the factors contributing to non-attendance are complex, hence the solutions require multi-sectoral collaboration in place-based design for effective implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0259857
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalPLoS One
Volume16
Issue numberNovember
Early online dateNov 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

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