“For a long time there has been a willful denial that there is a problem” … Carmen Lawrence.Increasing segregation of students has led to a two-tiered education system with a widening gap between the ”haves” and the ”have-nots”.
Australian students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are up to three years behind students from more privileged backgrounds in literacy levels, according to figures compiled for the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling. Poor students also lag well behind their wealthier peers in science and maths and are only half as likely to attend university.
Carmen Lawrence, the director of the centre for the study of social change at the University of Western Australia and a member of the Gonski review panel, said the figures busted the myth that Australia offers a fair go for all.
”For a long time there has been a willful denial that there is a problem,” she said. ”But we assembled all those data and they don’t make pretty reading.”
Disadvantaged children are concentrated in the public system, according to Gonski, with 80 per cent of children from low socio-economic backgrounds, 85 per cent of indigenous children and 79 per cent of children with disabilities in government schools.
Australia is achieving only average equity compared with other OECD countries, according to figures from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment survey, which ranks us behind Hong Kong, Shanghai, Finland and South Korea, which are rated in the top five performing places overall, compared with Australia at ninth spot.
The OECD reports that, among its member countries, differences in students’ backgrounds accounted for 55 per cent of performance differences between schools; for Australia, the figure is 68 per cent.
Educational inequity starts when a child reaches kindergarten, according to leading experts in the field.
David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in the faculty of education at Monash University and a former teacher, said disadvantaged children have a vocabulary of 2000-3000 words at the age of six, compared with between 10,000-20,000 for wealthier children.
”When a child comes into school 50 per cent of their academic achievement is already determined by what they bring into school, that is their family background, their home, their culture and intellectual ability,” he said.
”Children come to us in our classrooms with what has been called the ‘invisible backpack’ and some come with their backpack full of privilege and others come with a backpack of disadvantage.”
Research from the UK shows that even bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to perform well academically. By the age of eight, they are overtaken by less intelligent children from more advantaged backgrounds.
The inequity is compounded by an education system which siphons more affluent children into the private system and high achievers into the selective system, says Chris Bonnor, a former high school principal and a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.
”We subsidise kids to leave low socio-economic status schools to go to higher socio-economic schools,” he said. ”The disadvantage at the bottom end gets worse because all the aspirant kids have gone.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.