In an ideal society, education would be evenly spread and opportunities available to everyone, regardless of their socio-economic background. But it is not surprising that even in a wealthy country like Australia, there are issues brought about by an equality gap. This has implications that extend long into the future, and that affect everyone, whether directly or indirectly. Therefore the issues of an equality gap should urgently be addressed, and a strategy implemented to give full access to educational opportunities, regardless of background.
Students from a more deprived background tend to score much more poorly throughout their education than their peers from wealthier families. They consistently test more poorly in vital areas such as literacy, science and maths. And that begins at a very early age, even as far back as pre-school. Although schools are free, parents may be asked to pay for materials and other contributions that are not always affordable for anyone on a low income. And given that preschools must be paid for, it is no surprise that families on a budget may not be able to afford this option. As a result, their children are denied the opportunities that other children can benefit from, such as socialising and early learning. Once they fall behind other children, it is hard for them to catch up – and this may result in them being as far as three years behind their peers by the end of compulsory education.
We also see issues of inequality for indigenous children. Many of them experience a poorer education than non-indigenous children. The number who complete Year 12 is substantially behind their non-indigenous peers. This clearly has implications for their adult life, as the unemployment rate for indigenous people is far higher – as many as five times. This is related to health problems, a reduced life expectancy, poor-quality housing, and many other issues, which not only affect the quality of life of the individuals, but also present a cost to society. Therefore, the improvement of educational opportunities for indigenous children from their early life is of paramount importance. There is also a cycle that needs to be broken, as children who grow up in a poor background and do not benefit from a good education are more likely to continue the cycle and bring up their own children in poverty.
Unfortunately, focus in education is often on the best achievements, and attention paid to those pupils who do well. Of course schools want to encourage the most able pupils to reach their potential. Yet those pupils at the bottom are not necessarily any less able; they may simply have been unable to benefit from a good education simply because they come from a poorer background. But if all pupils are guaranteed equal opportunities, everyone benefits in the long term; not only will the poorer pupils be able to enjoy a better quality of life, but the rest of society will not have to contend with the problems that result from the deprivation experienced by others.
As a result of the equality gap, Australia as a whole is suffering compared to other countries. While being ranked below other countries is hardly the most pressing concern, it nevertheless indicates that there are problems that must be addressed. The reason for the decrease in Australia’s education compared to other countries is that the achievements of students who are doing well are rated together with students who are performing less well – another indication that the plight of these poorer-performing students cannot simply be ignored.
Australia’s sheer geographical size can be a problem. Education is increasingly internet based, and students in rural areas may not have access to the same resources as students in urban areas. Also, financial resources are likely to prioritise areas with a larger concentration of students. It is also hard to recruit teachers for rural areas, as such areas may not be as attractive to recruits as cities or towns with facilities such as entertainment and healthcare.
Today, the use of technology in the classroom is growing all the time. But this is another way in which rural students may be denied the same opportunities as their urban counterparts. High-speed internet may not even be available, as well as a lack of computers and software that facilitates learning. Teachers may not have the necessary training to use educational technology. So the consequences are that students outside urban areas may not be able to make use of the same opportunities as their city-based peers.