THE Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has launched a new tool to provide information on policy gaps between education standards in rural Australia and capital cities.
The RAI has partnered with Bendigo and Adelaide Bank on the [In]Sight-Human Capital Index that will focus on exposing the rural and city educational divide.
That divide is also central to an independent review announced by the federal government earlier this month, into education standards in rural, regional and remote Australia.
RAI chief executive Jack Archer said the government’s new inquiry was welcome news, but if Australia was serious about addressing the “entrenched education gap” it would need to keep its promise to look at the “complete puzzle”.
Mr Archer said Australia needed to radically lift access to learning opportunities in the regions, supporting educators and other leaders to solve key local challenges and to build a culture of learning “led from within our towns and communities”.
“If we want to shift things we need a leap frog strategy founded in national ambition,” he said.
“Previously, ad hoc and sector focused policy reforms in regional education have focused on specific issues, rather than looking at learning across the entire life cycle.
“We won’t win this battle with one-time national reforms on systemic issues – the answer is to go all in.
“The outcome we want most is that in regions, every person is engaged in education in some way.”
Mr Archer said tools like the newly launched [In]Sight-Human Capital Index would make it easier for policymakers to look at regional education across different life-stages and region by region basis.
He said key data from the Index showed that – based on NAPLAN results – regional areas performed significantly lower than their metropolitan neighbours in both primary and secondary numeracy and literacy.
It also showed the proportion of young regional Australians (aged 15-24) not engaged in either education or employment was 44 per cent higher than metropolitan areas.
This divide carries through to post-secondary education with 9pc fewer Australians in regional areas university qualified, the Index showed.
But Mr Archer said it was not all bad news as some regions performed well in specific educational segments like primary numeracy and literacy and ‘learning or earning’.
However, he said while these regions performed highly against select indicators, against other measures they did not do so well.
“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,” he said.
“Building a life-long culture of learning in regional Australia is critical to not only bridging the educational divide but to the economic prosperity of regional Australia.
“Not only will investing in learning across the lifecycle build a more skilled and agile workforce, but it is imperative to keeping up with technological change.”
Mr Archer said Australia could not afford a two-speed education system which compounds existing health, opportunity and income gaps in regional areas.
“This review has to take the chance to craft a new way forward.”
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the independent review was critical to addressing the key barriers and challenges that impact on the educational outcomes of regional, rural and remote students.
“There’s a clear disparity between education in the bush and the city – this seeks to address the gap of achievement, aspiration and access to higher education faced by regional students,” he said.
“That’s why we are going out to the edges, to hear from our regional communities in order to find solutions to build the skills of regional Australians to allow our youth better jobs and better opportunities no matter where they live.”