Oct 2019 Katherine Times

school attendance

Aboriginal children have among the world's highest rates of middle ear infections that cause hearing loss.

Chronic hearing loss issues have been linked to poor school attendance in the Northern Territory.

The first study investigating the independent impact of hearing impairment on school attendance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children has been released today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. The study by Menzies School of Health Research on the impact of hearing impairment on Aboriginal children's included research on school attendance in remote NT areas. Previous research has found Aboriginal children have among the world's highest rates of middle ear infections that cause hearing loss. The study found, on average, Aboriginal children with hearing issues, attended school less than their counterparts with normal hearing.

According to project leader, Professor Steven Guthridge from Menzies' Centre for Child Development and Education, the consequences of low school attendance are serious and long-lasting. "Many studies have associated low school attendance rates with poor academic achievements and early school leaving, which are in turn associated with poorer social outcomes," Prof Guthridge said. "School attendance is of particular concern in the Territory, with Aboriginal students, on average, only attending 70 per cent of the time for primary and 50 per cent in secondary, compared with the target of 90 per cent set by the Council of Australian Governments.

"In this study, we were particularly interested in exploring the role poor hearing plays in school attendance, with identification of the impact from the early years. To do this, we used a range of linked datasets containing routinely collected health and education data to investigate the impact of hearing impairment on Aboriginal students' school attendance in Year One."

Despite the gap identified by the study, Prof Guthridge said awareness in the educational system, together with routine hearing screening tests, can reduce the potential for long-term negative effects. "A common response for children with hearing loss is to disengage. By ensuring early and active detection of students with hearing impairment along with facilitating appropriate educational support at the earliest possible stage of their schooling may be conducive to children's school attendance," Prof Guthridge said.

Of consequence, the study found other community-level factors caused greater impact on attendance. Crowded housing, in particular, was associated with 24.7 fewer school days attended, approximately four times the impact of hearing impairment.

The study is one of a series of studies conducted in the Hearing Loss in Kids (HeloKids) Project, funded by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

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