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Teaching Indigenous students with conductive hearing loss in remote and urban schools in Western Australia

Otitis media, and consequent conductive hearing loss, is a medical problem with significant educational and social implications, especially for Aboriginal students. Otitis media results in temporary or permanent hearing loss (conductive hearing loss), with the level of hearing loss fluctuating unpredictably.

Aboriginal children have:

  • a higher incidence of otitis media (on average up to 70% of Aboriginal children are affected, compared with around 30% of the general population);
  • more frequent episodes of longer duration of otitis media; and
  • earlier onset of otitis media.

Otitis media interferes with children's development, especially oral language development, and consequently their acquisition of written literacy. If children do not acquire good skills in written literacy, they are much more likely to do poorly at school, drop out early, and consequently will have reduced employment opportunities. By improving literacy teaching strategies, children's overall educational outcomes can be enhanced.

Approximately 80 teachers and 500 Indigenous students of pre-primary to Year 3 classes in 16 schools in the Kimberley, Goldfields and Swan education districts of Western Australia participated in the Project, which aimed to :

  • investigate the consequences of conductive hearing loss among Indigenous students;
  • study the effectiveness of teacher strategies to improve learning outcomes of students affected by the disease; and
  • determine the effectiveness of professional development of teachers working with Indigenous students.

The longitudinal study was conducted over three years. At the start of the Project, Aboriginal students with conductive hearing loss (CHL) were performing significantly more poorly in literacy and numeracy skills than those without CHL, as measured by assessments such as PIPS (Performance Indicators in Primary Schools) and LiteracyNet scores.

Where teachers implemented the intervention strategies, the performance of students with conductive hearing loss improved, and by the end of the study no significant difference was evident in the performances of students with and without CHL.

The Project investigated the relationship between CHL and average attendance, and found no significant difference in average school attendance rates for students with and without CHL.

The Centre for Indigenous Australian Knowledges conducted the study on behalf of the WA Education Department, Catholic Education Commission, and the Association of Independent Schools Western Australia.


Professor Gary Partington
Dr Ann Galloway

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