The Australian educational system is often proclaimed to be one of the most unequal among the world's developed countries. With UNICEF ranking Australia second-worst among OECD nations in education inequality, a look at the reasons behind this could provide methods to close this gap. Whilst not the only factor to measure the equality of such a complex system, educational outcomes can provide a snapshot into the disparities of education as well as suggesting reasons which have led to such disparity.
Many factors which lead to educational inequality are rooted in a lack of financial support. Whether that be the Public v Private schooling divide or the Urban v Rural education disparity, both issues can be attributed to economic factors. In fact, a recent analysis by economist, Adam Ross, found that Australian private schools were being over funded by around $1 billion, while Australian public schools will incur a $19 billion shortfall by 2023. Despite this, annual funding from the Australian government to private schools continues to grow, with an increase to $13.7 billion dollars in the last decade.
Additionally, the nature of private schools creates a concentration of parents from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, widening this economic inequality in education. The Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage measures the socioeconomic status of a school, based on the students’ parents’ occupation, parents’ education, geographical location and the proportion of Indigenous students. With the median school having a score of 1000, this means that the higher the number, the more ‘socioeconomically advantaged’ it is. Out of the highest 100 ICSEA scores, 65 belong to private schools, demonstrating the economic disparity between private and public schools in Australia.
Socioeconomic status also seems to be a predictor of academic success, with results from recent Programme for International Student Assessment scores. 2015 results show that students from a high socioeconomic status perform better in reading, science and mathematics. The congregation of high socioeconomic status students at a private school ensures that the school is liberally funded and able to provide students with more modern facilities, learning materials and a safe and enriching environment, providing a high-quality education. Simultaneously, parents with a low socioeconomic status are forced to send their child to schools with other students of low socioeconomic background, thus having less of an ability to contribute generously to resources for the school to purchase adequate needs for their students.
Despite public and private schools of similar ICSEA achieving comparable results, a recent study reveals that there is a strong positive correlation between the ICSEA of a school and its students’ performance. That is, both private and public schools of higher ICSEA generally outperform other private and public schools of lower ICSEA. However, with peer-reviewed studies exemplifying that school funding is strongly related to its students’ achievement, in combination with the fact that private schools occupy the majority of the top ICSEA schools, a redistribution of funds to public and private schools is needed to narrow this large disparity.
Geographical location is also related to the socioeconomic status of a school, which could explain the rural and urban education divide. A 2018 Government snapshot also found that 91 percent of people living in major cities aged 16-24 had attained Year 12 or equivalent or a non-school qualification at Certificate III level or above, considerably higher than the 80.9% and 67.7% of those living in outer regional and remote/very remote regions respectively. This discrepancy further highlights the inequality present in the education system, where geographical location can be an unfair determiner of the quality of education received.
With socioeconomic status and geographic location acting as the key drivers of educational inequality in Australia, it is imperative that action be taken to reduce this socioeconomic segregated schooling.