Kerry O’Brien recently ended a Four Corners program “Growing Up Poor” with the line: “We can tell these kids that they can be whatever they want to be, that their dreams can be realised, but not if they’re left largely to do it on their own. That would be a cruel hoax, wouldn’t it?”
Unfortunately, for some children, this is an apt description of the current state of education in Australia. Students are constantly told that they can achieve anything, yet many of our disadvantaged children are left without genuine and consistent support to do just that.
With this in mind, the Federal Government’s Review of Funding for Schooling, the “Gonski Review”, has provided a once in a generation pathway out of the malaise that has obstructed education reform in Australia for decades.
Statistics show that many Australians kids fail to reach the minimum standards for reading, mathematics and science. The 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study showed that 24 per cent of Australian students did not meet the minimum reading standards before entering high school. In the same study, students from 26 countries out performed Australian children in year four reading.
In the Trends in International Maths and Science Study of the same year, 21 countries outperformed Australian students in year 4 science, and 17 countries in year 4 mathematics. While some look to achievements in later year students to determine the success of an education system, the decline of these primary educational outcomes is a worrying trend.
Thanks to a systemic inequality in our education system, a direct relationship exists between socio-economic disadvantage and poor educational outcomes. Factors such as where a child lives, their parents’ education, ethnicity and family income significantly determines their educational outcomes.
While some might find it unsurprising that disadvantaged students are more likely to not meet minimum education standards, that does not make it acceptable. In fact, it is unacceptable, and when something is unacceptable, you must do something about it.
According to the Smith Family University of Canberra Report “Unequal Opportunities” large inequalities remain in the Australian education system. This is particularly evident in the lack of financial resources available to some parents during their children’s formative years and the difficulties for underprivileged children to enter higher education.
As a young Australian, I find this unacceptable. Yes, there are outstanding individual anomalies, but education should never be about resilience, or chance.
While organisations such as Teach for Australia and the Foundation for Young Australians are working with young people to combat educational disadvantage, as a nation we need to do more.
Why should we care? Because we know a great education allows a girl from country Australia to be the first female admitted to the Queensland bar and go on to become our first female Governor-General.
The Gonski Review contains 41 recommendations with a major focus on combating educational disadvantage. The recommendations outline both a framework and solutions to many of the problems plaguing our schools today.
The Review has served as major call to action for reform with Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett noting in an opinion piece last year that, “for too long now we have discussed and debated what works – now we need to act.”
He is right.
We’ve done the research, we have the foundations of a plan. It’s time to stop talking about the issue and do something about it.
Ben Duggan is Founder and Managing Director of the Raising Hope Educaiton Foundaiton.