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What does the fourth-most socially segregated school system in the OECD really mean?

What does the fourth-most socially segregated school system in the OECD really mean?

In the midst of the greatest divide since 2006, young social economic status (SES) Australians’ will face an ominous post schooling life as graduate skill demands and technological advances are leaving many without a hope of secure employment. 

With the unveiling of the 2018 PISA statistics on the 3rd of December. The continuation of the 2015 statistics supplied by the OECD, detail that Australian students from the highest socio-economic bracket are significantly outperforming those from the lowest by a difference of 3 years schooling.

A 2018 NAPLAN report suggested the difference between disadvantaged and advantaged students in terms of schooling years is two and half for reading; along with two for writing and numeracy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. An even greater disparity is seen with Year 9 students, with catastrophic learning gaps of four years in reading and numeracy as well as four and half years for writing.

Typically, a high concentration of disadvantaged schools in Australia are of course located in remote areas. In assessing student performance levels from different locations, PISA 2018 divided the geographic locations of schools using the distinguishable categories of metropolitan, provincial and remote as defined by the MCEETYA Schools Geographic Location Classification. Now it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in all three subject areas, students from metropolitan schools performed at a higher level than students in provincial and remote schools; but the sheer contrast in education levels certainly is.

In fact, Metropolitan schools outperformed remote schools by an average of 12%, and almost 4% better than Provisional schools; equating to around a difference of two years schooling. Given Australia is such a vast country with hundreds of thousands living in remote areas that is somewhat expected, however the Government should be doing far more in identifying these areas of risk and support them accordingly.

There is no question that inequalities are partially determined by inherent poverty and disadvantage away from school. But the underlying current that will continue to push the divide further is an unwillingness to fight segregation in school. Instead of working to bridge the gap, socio economic inequalities are only being intensified by schooling. 

With the release of 2018’s results doing nothing to buck the trend, 2015 branded Australia as having the largest gap in teacher shortages between disadvantaged and advantaged schools in the OECD. The inequity of education staff allocation for all countries participating in PISA was ranked 3rd highest, with only Peru and Buenos Aires recording worse inequity. 

Not only that, Australia posted top 5 rankings in student-teacher ratios in disadvantaged schools and the 4thlargest gap in the inadequacy of educational material and physical infrastructure. If our disadvantaged schools are already operating under-staffed, under-resourced and with inferior infrastructure, what hope do they have of educating our generations that follow at above average standards?

Ally to the issues for ordinary students, the trends for the already challenging education of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders and disabled students are far more startling. 83.9% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are enrolled at Government funded schools, which in turn represents 5% of the PISA 2018 Sample. Again, in all three subject areas, Indigenous Australians in particular are on average two and a half years schooling behind non-indigenous students. 

Whilst there is no one solution, at a bare minimum our government should look to equalize the share of resources amongst all school systems and pay special attention in monitoring and ensuring the progress of at-risk remote institutions and districts. By design, Australian schools must become more socially integrated which studies have found creates conditions that facilitate a higher level of teaching and learning. These are less expensive which in turn free up funds to be used for possible extension or development classes. 

Segregation at the foundational level of Australia’s education system is the heart of our struggles. Even in 2015 PISA explicitly outlined that in ‘countries where more resources are allocated to disadvantaged schools over advantaged schools, overall student performance was higher.’ For a country that prides itself on social economic equality and solidarity; why hasn’t the Gonski review, which has preached the adoption of a needs based economic approach to funding, still yet to be even discussed at federal level? Whilst the mistakes over recent years won’t be realised for some time, steps need to be taken to ensure that subsequent generations aren’t subject to a similar fate.