Everywhere in the world, access to high quality education varies between different socio-economic groups. This variation could be considered to stem from genetic influences, but it is also the result of differences in access to resources and opportunities. Australia is no exception.
On a global scale Australia has high education standards. In the latest OECD league table, Australia is ranked fourteenth in the world and ranks nineteenth for secondary school enrolment rates and this can be attributed to the government’s provision of a myriad of educational opportunities; public primary and secondary education is affordable and standardised and tertiary studies are often subsidised.
However, despite a high standard of education, where Australia is behind is not our standard of education but access to education for the less privileged, specifically those in rural areas. Research shows a clear relationship between geographical location and educational outcomes in Australia. Given Australia’s large landmass, access to education is limited in rural areas which also face other problems such as attaining funding, recruiting and sustaining a workforce and accessing services of the same quality as metropolitan areas.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) puts Australia in the 'high quality/low equity' category in its collation of international literacy standards. A report by the Grattan Institute analysed the results of the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) assessments taken in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and the results showed that in Australia the average level of achievement of a child from a low socioeconomic status background is approximately two years behind that of a child of a high socioeconomic status.
Furthermore, in rural areas, the proportion of very remote students who meet each education milestone is between 19-48% lower than the general population. A report by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission showed that rural children were "less likely to participate in schooling, more likely to be absent, less likely to complete the compulsory school years, less likely to complete Year 12 and less likely to participate in tertiary education and training”.
Reasons have been debated extensively and education is a commonly discussed topic in Australian politics. The discrepancy in educational opportunities is thought to be related to inequalities in funding, resourcing, teacher shortages and learning environments. There is an evident preference for educators to remain in metropolitan areas and government funding often neglects the needs of small communities for which the overall cost of education is much more expensive per capita than in cities. This in many circumstances has left these communities to do as well they can manage. It is now common for rural families to send their children to boarding schools in the larger cities to allow them to have as good of an education as more privileged socio-economic areas.
This lack of equal opportunity is contradictory to the Australian concept of a ‘fair go’, the belief that people should have an equal opportunities if they are willing to pursue their goals. Inequality will always be a persistent issue but educational disadvantage of rural Australia is often ignored due to the seemingly greater importance of more popularised issues in Australia and it will only continue to grow worse until the education standard in Australia has slipped so far that something must be done.
Solutions must be considered. The simplest of which would be more funding to rural areas and creating incentives for teachers to work in rural areas. The OECD predicts that if Australia was to improve its educational equality, GDP would expand and the employment access throughout the country would also improve.
In seeing this, it could be said that is it about time for a new model in Australian schooling; a quality education where all families in Australia have equal opportunity to an education which does not involve great personal expense or children having to live hundreds of kilometres away from their families.
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