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Disadvantaged student performance has most impact

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We know that falling student performance impacts negatively on the country but a new report says that the underperformance of the most disadvantaged students has the most pronounced effect as their performance fell farthest.

The actual dollar figure of under peformance generally is $118.6 billion over six years, $20.3 billion of which can be attributed to growth in inequality.

The report, What Price the Gap? Education and Inequality in Australia, was written by the Public Education Foundation and charts the recent history of educational inequality. The paper evaluates the economic impacts of falling educational achievement as measured by PISA testing, including the value of the ‘inequality effect’ caused by a widening distribution of Australian students’ performances.

The OECD has produced an estimate of the effect of a change in PISA scores on long-term economic performance and finds that a 50 point change in a country’s PISA scores is associated with a change in long term GDP growth of 0.87% per year.

“While all groups have fared worse on the international PISA tests, the performance of those at the bottom has fallen by almost 50% more than those at the top, exacerbating inequality between the two ends,” the Public Education Foundation’s Executive Director, David Hetherington, said.

Dr David Zyngier, an expert in curriculum and pedagogy at Monash University thinks the report “demonstrates clearly the enormous economic (let alone cultural and social) cost of the growing achievement gap between high and low performers, between rich and poor, that mirrors the general increase in this social and class divide in Australia.”

Zyngier observes that “The decade long decline in Australia's international tests (PISA and TIMMS) is uneven. The greatest fall is in the lowest 10% of students – more than double that of their higher performing peers. These are the disadvantaged (poor, refugee, migrant, Indigenous and remote) students – of whom more than 80% are found in our public schools.

“This fall is paralleled by the rise in government funding for private schools during the same period. Australia’s per student spending as a percentage of per capita GDP is 18% for primary compared to the OECD average of 22%, and 23% for secondary compared to the OECD average of 25%. As a share of GDP, Australia’s allocation of government money to schools is slightly below the OECD average. Australian government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is among the lowest in the OECD.

Prof John Fischetti who is the Head of Newcastle University’s School of Education and an expert in school reform and teacher education says the report is “another wake up call to Australia’s leaders about the future of the country.” He thinks getting school right for all learners requires six components.

“Firstly, we need to continue to advance the quality of teachers, including their professional learning and initial preparation, and the quality of their pedagogies.

“Secondly, we must change the model of schooling that is still mostly based on an assembly line approach to manufacturing students by age, and keeping them compliant and passive in their journeys.”

“Thirdly, it is necessary to enable new models of schooling and TAFE and University pathways based on how children learn, and to ensure they are funded equitably.

“Fourthly, we need to fully fund high-quality early childhood education for all Australian families.”

“It is also essential that address the health care crisis. Many young people lack access to dental, eye, mental, and specialist healthcare.”

“Finally, it is important to provide greater access to adult education, as so many parents and older Australians are undereducated for the innovation economy, and are struggling in an increasingly competitive, global and automated economy.” 


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