Postcodes a pointer to the education divide
As seen in The Australian, March 29, 2017
Australia is on track to have the most segregated education system in the OECD as the educational divide between city and country becomes more stark.
And it is only a matter of time before the postcode of where someone lives becomes a stronger determinant of success than socio-economic status.
These are the stark conclusions of Jack Archer, chief executive of the Regional Australia Institute after it developed a human capital index that maps educational achievement across different life stages in the nation’s local government areas.
“The diversity of regional strengths and weaknesses means that while our standard schools funding debate, VET or university reform options can contribute, on their own each will fail to solve the problem of the regional divide,” Mr Archer said.
So while regional areas have 20 per cent fewer residents who have completed high school than metropolitan areas, and the proportion of young people aged 15 to 24 who are not engaged in some form of education or training is 44 per cent higher, this is not true across all regions.
For example, the index found that the Augusta-Margaret River region in Western Australia and Roxby Downs in South Australia have high school completion rates 10 per cent above the national average. Robe, also in South Australia, Etheridge in Queensland and Uralla in NSW had more than 94 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 learning or employed. That was 6 per cent above the national average and equal to the average performance of metropolitan areas.
“If Australia is serious about addressing this entrenched education gap it will need to look at the complete puzzle,” Mr Archer said.
“If we want to shift things we need a leapfrog strategy founded in national ambition including radically lifting access to learning opportunities in regions regardless of age.”
Mr Archer said the federal government’s recently announced review of rural and regional education provided an opportunity to look at the educational divide afresh.
“Our message to the review is that before you get bogged down in individual issues, understand the diversity of challenges in different places,” Mr Archer said.
It’s not just a lack of formal education services, such as childcare centres, TAFEs and universities, but a lack of ambition and willingness to engage with the education system, Mr Archer said.
“Without a dramatic change in how we approach the challenge of lifting regional education outcomes it is unlikely we will bridge this divide. The federal review has to take the chance to craft a new way forward,” he said.
The report notes a holistic policy approach is essential because of the complexity of the picture.
For example while youth disengagement may be a considerable problem in some communities, the problem of disengagement is not confined to school-leavers.
“There is substantial evidence that a larger number of older Australians are dropping out of the workforce,” the report says.
“By shifting focus to a lifelong learning approach to the analysis and development of human capital, regions can create significant benefits through targeted intervention.
“It is certain that regions (and the people in them) will need to develop a lifelong learning culture if they are to secure the new skills and knowledge required for ongoing social and economic prosperity. Developing a culture in which people of all ages have opportunities to learn will be vital.”