Closing Australia’s education divide will take a generation, landmark study finds

One of the most comprehensive studies of Australia’s education system has found postcodes and family backgrounds impact the opportunities available to students from pre-school to adulthood, with one in three disadvantaged students falling through the cracks.

Sergio Macklin, the deputy lead of education policy at Victoria University’s Michell Institute, authored Educational Opportunity in Australia, which calls for immediate extra resources to help disadvantaged, Indigenous and remote students.

“Educational success is strongly linked to the wealth of a young person’s family and where they grow up,” Mr Macklin said.

“I think Australia’s really letting down students from low-income families, Aboriginal students and those in remote areas.”

The report critiques progress on last December’s Alice Springs Education Council meeting where, in the wake of Australia’s poor performance against its international counterparts, education ministers pledged to deliver a system that produced excellence and equity.

Last year’s poor results on equality of education have now been exacerbated by remote learning, with some students without internet or stability at home falling weeks behind their peers.

“The children and young people that were being worst served by the education system are probably the ones that are being most affected by it,” Mr Macklin said.

“So you’ll see employment stress in families dramatically increased student vulnerability.”

The report followed the progress of more than 300,000 students from school entry through primary school, into high school and onto early adulthood.

Its author believes the problem will take a generation to fix.

The report found disadvantaged students were more than twice as likely as their peers to not be in study or work by the age of 24.

The national average of students missing out on either work or study is 15 per cent, but this rises to 32 per cent of students from the lowest SES backgrounds, 38 per cent from very remote areas and 45 per cent among Indigenous young people.

“I think what this report highlights is that we’re losing young people’s opportunities in adulthood — and that’s a real problem for young people,” Mr Macklin said.

“But it’s also a real problem for Australia. It puts a handbrake on our recovery efforts from the COVID recession.”

Bucking the trend

About half an hour outside of Canberra, in regional New South Wales, 14-year-old Caitlyn, 16-year-old Iliana, 13-year-old William and their mother Mem are bucking the trend, with the help of the Smith Family.

They are members of a proud Indigenous family originally from Djangadi country, in far north-eastern NSW.

Remote learning has been a battle for everyone, but getting it done in a two-bedroom apartment which houses three teenagers and their single mum has come with its own challenges.

Even getting a desk was a major hurdle.

“I worried were they going to bicker,” Mem said.

“How do all of us get enough space? Because there’s nowhere to get away to and you weren’t really allowed outside.

William sleeps in the lounge room and his bedroom became a school headquarters of sorts.

“I’m in the lounge

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USF closing College of Education

Ryan McKinnon
| Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Faculty at the University of South Florida learned Wednesday that the university will be eliminating its College of Education, a program that had once been the fifth largest college of education in the country. 

The school plans to phase out its bachelor’s of education degree over the next few years, as the current students enrolled in the program finish. The master’s program will be shifted into another college, and the university will close the door on its College of Education.

The move comes as interest in teaching nationwide has plummeted, while school districts look for ways to entice teachers into the field.

“We see, across the country, less interest in education as a field, as a career field,” said Judith Ponticell, interim Dean of the USF College of Education.

USF’s overall enrollment in the College of Education, including both undergraduate and graduate students, has fallen from 5,117 in 2009 to 2,384 last year, according to data provided by the university. 

“When enrollment declines by more than 50% over a decade, it’s time for us to step back,” said Ralph Wilcox, USF provost and executive vice president.  

The university is required to make major funding cuts, due to decreased tax revenue brought on by COVID-19. Each of the 12 universities in the State University System is required to cut budgets by 8.5%, which at USF equates to $36.7 million. 

Wilcox said as more alternative routes to getting a teaching degree have emerged, particularly through the State College system, it was time for USF to move on from offering a bachelor’s in education and focus on the five-year master’s track that other schools, like the University of Florida, already have. 

Wilcox said the university was “moving away from needs that can be better served and are being served in better ways.”

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Local school leaders saddened 

The elimination of the undergraduate education program came as a surprise to local school district leaders. Students from USFSM’s College of Education went to schools in Sarasota and Manatee to complete their student teaching, where undergraduate students spend a semester teaching a class and receive feedback from the teacher.

“We have valued our partnership with USF’s College of Education and we truly hope this is not a permanent situation,” said Sarasota County Schools Chief Academic Officer Laura Kingsley. “Sarasota County Schools are filled with outstanding USF graduates.”   

Manatee County School District Superintendent said she had not received any word about USF eliminating its program on Thursday afternoon, so she declined to comment specifically but said the partnership with USF had been mutually beneficial. 

Faculty caught off guard 

Wilcox’s announcement surprised faculty, according to professors working at USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus.  

“How does something like this happen without our own campus administration saying anything to us?” one faculty member said, asking not to be named out of concern for their job security.   

Anthony Cox, chair of the Sarasota-Manatee Faculty Council,

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