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Australia's staggering education divide


Children in Australia’s most remote regions are being left when it comes to education amid a staggering divide between the haves and have-nots, a report says.

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The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre report says it is clear many of today’s young children will not receive a ‘fair go’ in accessing education opportunities, for no other reasons than family background, demographic characteristics and geography.

The staggering divide between the most and least disadvantaged areas is a sobering reminder of the level of inequality that still exists, with many children falling far behind in educational access, performance and outcomes, the report authors said.

“Our findings show that the most disadvantaged students are averaging half the NAPLAN scores in reading, writing and numeracy as those in the least disadvantaged areas,” BCEC director Professor Alan Duncan said.

The most disadvantaged areas are in Australia’s very remote regions spanning the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia, where there is a dominant indigenous population.

But pockets of disadvantage are also evident on the fringes of the state capital cities, the BCEC’s new index of educational disadvantage shows.

The most disadvantaged 10 per cent of children in the ACT are no more disadvantaged than the most advantaged 10 per cent of children in the NT, the report released on Wednesday said.

Duncan said the transition from preschool to primary school is critical, with the report calling for more to be done to ensure those in most need of early childhood education are accessing at least the prescribed 15 hours of preschool each week.

BCEC Associate Professor Rebecca Cassells said nearly half of young people in the most disadvantaged areas are not studying until they are 17, compared with just 2.5 per cent in the least disadvantaged areas.

She said the gap in attendance rates between Aboriginal and non-indigenous students remains constant throughout primary school but deteriorates rapidly once high school commences up to year 10.

The report authors found government funding, particularly at a state level, appeared to be reasonably well targeted relative to need.

But they said the current debate on needs-based funding is missing a clear understanding of the extent to which the funding changes being proposed under Gonski 2.0 would lead to improvements in educational outcomes.

Duncan said funding is not the magic bullet in narrowing the education gap in Australia.

“To reduce inequality requires so much more in the way that teaching is delivered, the way that students are engaged, the opportunities that they have after school and the partnerships between the education sector and community and business, to make sure that aspirations are raised for all.”

Education inequality in Australia


* Children in most advantaged areas achieve on average double the score in reading, writing and numeracy tests

* Compared to the most advantaged areas, children in the 50 areas at greatest educational disadvantage are, on average:

– Half as likely to be enrolled in preschool at age four;

– Half as likely to attend preschool for 15 hours or more;

– Seven times more likely to be vulnerable on two or more developmental domains in first year of schooling

* Non-attendance rates are nearly five times a high, at 22 per cent

* Nearly half of young people in areas of greatest need are neither learning nor earning


* All in very remote regions, spanning the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia

* Very low rates of preschool participation and attendance levels reaching prescribed 15 hours each week

* Very high rates of developmental vulnerability and school non-attendance

* Low achievement in NAPLAN testing

* Areas have a very dominant indigenous population

* Also pockets of disadvantage on fringes of state capital cities


* Majority in affluent Sydney suburbs, plus some in Melbourne

* Much lower levels of disadvantage across education spectrum:

– Higher engagement in preschool

– Very low proportions of children in first year of schooling showing signs of developmental vulnerabilities

– High achievement in NAPLAN testing

– Very high school attendance rates

– High youth engagement and low overall unemployment

* Number of the areas also house Australia’s elite independent schools and boarding houses


* Child from low socio-economic background up to three times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable by the time starts primary school.

* Indigenous child 40 per cent less likely to finish high school and 60 per cent less likely to go to university compared with a non-indigenous child.

* Child born in remote Australia only a third as likely to go to university as child born in a major city.

* Division particularly noticeable in the NT, Queensland and WA, where gap between children living in the least and most disadvantaged areas is the widest.

* Schools in areas of greatest educational disadvantage receive income of $24,100 per student, compared to an average of $16,400 for top 50 areas.

* Huge gulf in access to internet away from school between lowest and highest ranked areas.

Source: Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre report on education inequality in Australia.


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