By: Conor Duffy
One of the most comprehensive studies of Australia’s education system has found postcodes and family backgrounds impact the opportunities available to students from pre-school to adulthood, with one in three disadvantaged students falling through the cracks.
Sergio Macklin, the deputy lead of education policy at Victoria University’s Michell Institute, released the report Educational Opportunity in Australia, which calls for immediate extra resources to help disadvantaged, Indigenous and remote students.
“Educational success is strongly linked to the wealth of a young person’s family and where they grow up,” Mr Macklin said.
“I think Australia’s really letting down students from low-income families, Aboriginal students and those in remote areas.”
The report critiques progress on last December’s Alice Springs Education Council meeting where, in the wake of Australia’s poor performance against its international counterparts, education ministers pledged to deliver a system that produced excellence and equity.
Last year’s poor results on equality of education have now been exacerbated by remote learning, with some students without internet or stability at home falling weeks behind their peers.
“The children and young people that were being worst served by the education system are probably the ones that are being most affected by it,” Mr Macklin said.
“So you’ll see employment stress in families dramatically increased student vulnerability.”
The report followed the progress of more than 300,000 students from school entry through primary school, into high school and onto early adulthood.
Mr Macklin believes the problem will take a generation to fix.
The report found disadvantaged students were more than twice as likely as their peers to not be in study or work by the age of 24.
The national average of students missing out on either work or study is 15 per cent, but this rises to 32 per cent of students from the lowest SES backgrounds, 38 per cent from very remote areas and 45 per cent among Indigenous young people.
“I think what this report highlights is that we’re losing young people’s opportunities in adulthood — and that’s a real problem for young people,” Mr Macklin said.
Bucking the trend
About half an hour outside of Canberra, in regional New South Wales, 14-year-old Caitlyn, 16-year-old Iliana, 13-year-old William and their mother Mem are bucking the trend, with the help of the Smith Family.
They are members of a proud Indigenous family originally from Djangadi country, in far north-eastern NSW.
Remote learning has been a battle for everyone, but getting it done in a two-bedroom apartment which houses three teenagers and their single mum has come with its own challenges.
Even getting a desk was a major hurdle.
“I worried were they going to bicker,” Mem said.
“How do all of us get enough space? Because there’s nowhere to get away to and you weren’t really allowed outside.
William sleeps in the lounge room and his bedroom became a school headquarters of sorts.
“I’m in the lounge room and it’s the most public area of the house. Iliana and Caitlyn both have their own bedrooms,” William said.
Caitlyn found it a tough change from school.
“After a few weeks, I realised it sucked, because I struggle sometimes with just online learning,” the year 9 student said.
But for the oldest of the three siblings, 16-year-old Iliana, it became comfortable.
“I think we had a little trouble at first adjusting because we didn’t know exactly who was going to be where and who was intruding on who, but eventually we found our rhythm on how to do things,” she said.
Mem is proud of her three children’s dedication.
All are on track to be future Indigenous leaders, and with the extra support they were lucky enough to arrange, they have gone back to school on par with their peers.
The Smith Family’s head of research, Anne Hampshire, says it was proof it could be done.
She said educational equity could be achieved much quicker than in a generation if philanthropists, educators, welfare agencies and all levels of government came together.
“What that concretely looks like, the type of support that makes a difference, is high-quality pre-school programs before children start school and then providing financial, emotional and education support — things like high-quality reading programs, after-school learning clubs,” Ms Hampshire said.
She said the investment would quickly be repaid through lower rates of welfare and health problems for those who kept slipping through the gaps.
“The international evidence is that [with that], a lot more people can do well educationally.”
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.