Mr Howard said providing indigenous children with better educational prospects was the best way to improve their future standard of living, giving them a "passport to the Australian community".
But he said the debate for so long had been conducted around symbols and whether he "was going to say sorry".
"All this sort of stuff really was a diversion from the main issue and the main issue is to help indigenous people become part of the mainstream of the Australian community," he told Macquarie Radio.
"I have a very simple belief that the best ways to help Aboriginal people in Australia is to give them a chance of being like the rest of us, to enjoy the high living standard of the modern Australian community."
Mr Howard said the year 12 retention rate for indigenous Australians had risen from 29 per cent to 40 per cent in the last 10 years, while the number of indigenous students in tertiary education had doubled.
With almost 40 per cent of Australia's indigenous population under the age of 14, now was a good opportunity to get rid of Aboriginal disadvantage through education, he said.
Mr Howard will address a lunch with Reconciliation Australia director Professor Mick Dodson, thanking companies, organisations and individuals who have pledged to help provide educational opportunities for indigenous children.