Inequality entrenched in the education system

Around one-fifth to one-third of young people are not acquiring lifelong learning skills and not mastering the knowledge needed to become functional adults.
Oct 27, 2020
Same problems
Your future is determined by where you are born

A student’s post code is still the best indicator of their academic and future success with Indigenous children, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and children in very remote areas at least twice as likely as their peers to have a developmental vulnerability.

Often these gaps grow as students get older, with students not receiving the support they need to catch up to their peers and around one-fifth to one-third of young people are not acquiring lifelong learning skills and not mastering the knowledge and skills needed to become functional adults.

The findings were published in a new report – Educational Opportunity in Australia 2020: Who succeeds and who misses out?, prepared by the Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES) for the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, is the first major study to assess Australia’s performance against the comprehensive educational goals in the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration which aspires to an education system that achieves excellence and equity.

Educational Opportunity looks at how students are progressing in these areas at four milestones: school entry, the middle years, the senior years of school and early adulthood.

The Mitchell Institute’s Deputy Lead of Education Policy, Sergio Macklin, said that despite pockets of excellence, the report shows that the education system is mired in inequality.

“Australia’s education system is failing the students who need our support most; the evidence suggests too often the system is entrenching rather than reducing educational disadvantage,” Mr Macklin said.

“Our failure to address educational inequality limits individuals’ choices and employment opportunities in adulthood and is a key driver of poorer health outcomes. It is costing our economy billions and left unchecked, it will put a handbrake on our efforts to recover from the recession,” he said.

The Smith Family said providing targeted and timely support to at risk students before they start school, and as they move through the education system, is critical to them realising their potential.

“This seminal report clearly identifies the groups of students who aren’t achieving the educational outcomes which are important for their long-term social and economic participation,” said The Smith Family’s Head of Research and Advocacy Anne Hampshire.

“Currently too many young Australians aren’t reaching their potential. Investing in strategies which have been shown to improve educational outcomes is in the best interests of these young people and all Australians, particularly as we work to respond to the impact of COVID-19. Such strategies include providing targeted after school learning opportunities and career exposure initiatives.”

Mr Macklin said COVID-19 had exacerbated educational inequality, and urgent action was needed.

“The children and young people who were being let down by the education system before the pandemic are also the ones facing the greatest educational disadvantage as a result of it. Employment stress in families has dramatically increased the number of vulnerable young people and remote schooling is likely to have widened gaps in achievement, particularly for those in low-income households,” he said.

“The report should be a wakeup call to politicians and policy makers, we simply can’t continue with the status quo.”

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