Education Promoting Equality in Australia

Education Promoting Equality in Australia




Education Promoting Equality in Australia

  1. Role of Education in Promoting Equity

Australia is an industrialized country. It has invested numerous resources into the education of its citizens. The country spends about 5% of its budget ($44 billion) on its educational needs (Field, Kuczera, Pont & Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007). Consequently, the Australian national educational system has been ranked highly on the global stage. The country’s Education Index, part of the UN’s Human Development Index, ranked highly at 0.993 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked the Australian educational system as part of its top ten, in the fields of science, reading and mathematics (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004).

It is crucial to note that the country also has other educational systems operating in private institutions. The most prominent are the Catholic and Independent-run schools. In most countries, there is a correlation between quality of education and the invested capital. High-income groups usually have a competitive edge against the low-income groups, in accessing quality education (Australian Catholic University: Public Policy Institute, 2011). In Australia, inequality is present in the education system. This paper seeks to identify how education and training may be used as a platform for promoting equal opportunities for all members of society.

Education is often viewed as a platform for growing a national economy. It is also seen as an instrument for ensuring equity in a society. An opportunity is described as a set of circumstances that enable an individual to carry out an activity of their choice. Fred Argy (2007, par. 2) describes equality of opportunity as “the opportunity available to well-motivated, capable and hard-working people to get ahead in life, and achieve their maximum potential, no matter their social background.” Education, therefore, plays a role in ensuring equal opportunities for a country’s citizens. The right to education is recognized internationally as a fundamental human right. Education enables the exercising of other rights. In Australia, there is a large discrepancy between the privileged and poorer students. Furthermore, the territorial governments usually spend less on educating the poor, as compared to other countries.

In Australia, the higher-income families spend around 2.5 times more than the bottom 25% families (Argy, 2007). They, therefore, have access to better schools, especially the private ones. Private schools in Australia are better equipped and staffed than their public equivalents. For example, their teachers are paid higher salaries, and schools have newer facilities and technology (Harrison, 2011). Therefore, they tend to outperform the state-funded schools. For instance, year 3 grammar scores in private institutions are 33 points higher than the public schools (Harrison, 2011). For admission in Australian universities, students are required to attain set test scores. Thus, the higher-scoring students from private institutions gain university admissions. Consequently, students from private institutions gain employment later, at the expense of those initially from public schools. It is for that reason seen that education is a factor of an individual’s employment opportunity.

In various education systems, students are taught sciences. They are given scientific skills and knowledge regarding basic healthcare. Educated individuals are able to make the right decisions concerning their medical welfare. For instance, they know that they need to consult a doctor if feeling unwell. However, uneducated individuals may be unaware of this. Therefore, their lack of education limits their access to medical facilities. Similarly, healthcare facilities require tasks such as filling forms. The appeal of such facilities is limited to the uneducated. Through education and training, individuals have access to employment opportunities. From that income, they may access housing. As stated earlier, poorly educated people tend to have low incomes. Therefore, they are limited to housing of poor quality.

  1. Social Groups with Limited Access to Education

In the Australian society, there is a relatively wide gap between groups and their access to education (Argy, 2007). Individuals from low socioeconomic statuses have a limited access to quality education. This is attributable to various factors. Firstly, they are almost exclusively enrolled in the under funded public schools. Private schools are usually additionally expensive. Such students cannot afford tuition fees. It is essential to note that Australian schools have a zoning policy, whereby, only students from the locality gain admission.

In public schools, the facilities are less modern than their private counterparts are. Classes are also crowded, and teachers are fewer in number. It is compulsory for Australian children to attend school until the ages of 15 or 17, depending on the local territory. Individuals from low socioeconomic status groups may be affected by personal issues such as confidence. They may quit schooling once the compulsory schooling is completed (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006).

In Australia, government schools usually charge some voluntary fees. Some of these are the costs of books, educational trips and other activities. Families that are of low socioeconomic status are often unable to meet the costs of education, beyond basic schooling. In families of higher socioeconomic status, supplementary activities such as tuition and music classes are affordable. Individuals from such groups, therefore, attain higher test-scores. Consequently, they have better opportunities at going to institutions of higher learning, and later, employment. Families of low socioeconomic status have varying outlooks on education. Financial constraints encourage individuals from such groups to quit schooling, and help with supporting their families (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006).

Australia is a country with a relatively high migrant population. Since 1945, around 7 million people have migrated into the country. Most of the immigrants come from New Zealand, China, India, the United Kingdom and Vietnam (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2013). An individual’s ethnicity is a fundamental factor in determining their access to education. Immigrants from many countries are often unable to speak English coherently (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2013). Education in Australia is facilitated through the English language. Therefore, such students are unable to grasp key concepts. Cultural differences may also cause problems in the provision of education to such individuals. They may be marginalized by other students in the educational and training institutions (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006).

The territories of Australia and New Zealand contain many indigenous people. These are the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. In 2006, their population was estimated at 517,000, approximately 2.5% of the entire country’s population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012). In various ways, the indigenous people have been left behind the Australian society. In education, their participation is relatively limited. For instance, 39% of indigenous students only study until year 12 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004). Conversely, 75% of the entire Australian population studies until year 12 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004). There are various factors explaining their limited access to education. Firstly, relative to the larger Australian population, the indigenous people are economically disadvantaged (Campbell, Kelly, Harrison & Alfred Deakin Research Institute., 2012). Individuals from that group are often unable to meet secondary schooling needs (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004).

Secondly, the indigenous people of Australia have been marginalized in education (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). Malin and Maidment (2003), state that many indigenous Australians complete their schooling without being adequately literate or numerate to gain meaningful employment. The authors also state that indigenous individuals have poor communication with their teachers and classmates. There are high levels of teasing and fighting between the two groups. Thirdly, the indigenous people of Australia are faced with numerous health problems (Campbell et al., 2012). Consequently, there are relatively high dropout rates in such communities. Indigenous groups do not speak English as a native language. Communication between learners and instructors may therefore, be a problem. This leads to constraints in the transfer of knowledge and skills.

The Australian society is a highly urbanized one. Around 70% of the country’s population lives in cities such as Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Canberra (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). However, a considerable part of the Australian population lives in the rural and remote areas. Similarly, there is a considerable margin between the educations offered in ‘city’ institutions and ‘bush’ schools (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). There are various factors influencing their access to education.

Firstly, there is limited access to technology. In some remote parts of Australia, supply of electricity is either limited or non-existent. Consequently, some fundamental disciplines such as computer skills may not be taught to them. Secondly, remote territories tend to have a limited range of subjects. Facilities offering tertiary education may lack in the affected areas. Individuals from such groups may have to forego such phases of education, or move out of their areas of residence for access. There are limited career opportunities in rural Australia. This may be a disincentive for individuals to study beyond the compulsory schooling.

  1. Policies on Inequality

Equity in education has been the subject of recent discourse in the Australian society. It is crucial to note that, differences in educational levels have a correlation to economic growth rates of OECD countries (Field et al., 2007). Despite high ratings among OECD countries, Australia lags behind on equity (Australian Catholic University: Public Policy Institute, 2011). The government has therefore, created various policies to meet this need. The Productivity Commission, hereafter referred to as PC, is the Australian Government’s independent advisory body. The PC has highlighted that improvement of the country’s basic literacy skills will raise productivity in the country. It has advocated for an increase in funding for schools hosting underprivileged groups.

Since the 1970s, various policies and programs have been carried out by the Australian government, targeted at improving equity in education. The Disadvantaged Schools Programme (DSP) was started to improve the participation of individuals from low-income groups. The programme provided additional funds to institutions determined to be serving the poorest 15% of Australian students. Despite its removal in 1997, its ideals remain as key components of modern educational policies, in state governments. It is claimed that the Aboriginal peoples were the most educationally disadvantaged in Australia (Global Research, 2005). Consequently, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy was created in 1989. It was created to improve access, participation and outcomes of the Aboriginal groups, in education. Since then, the access, participation and outcomes of such groups have been found to increase.

In 1994, the National Equity Programme for Schools was developed. This policy introduced new mechanisms for ensuring accountability by education officials. It focused on creating an outcomes-based governance strategy in education. Consequently, various groups were identified, that featured educational outcomes that were lower than the national average. These were disabled students, individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds, Aboriginal students and others. It is seen that the notion of equality represented by this policy was that of equal outcomes. To achieve this, the policy expanded the funding.

In 1998, the government established the National Literacy and Numeracy Plan. The purpose of this policy was to eliminate educational and social disadvantages, by providing individuals with strong a strong foundation in literacy and numeric skills. Under this policy, schools featuring high populations of disadvantaged individuals were granted additional funds. These funds were distributed according to the outcomes of each institution. Under the program, individuals from non-English speaking backgrounds, alongside the indigenous people, were identified as the most important.

The Australian territories carried out the policy under different names. For instance, Tasmania named it ‘Flying Start’, while, Western Australia named it ‘First Steps’. The policy called for increased involvement by local communities. This ensured that accountability was maintained in educational institutions. Similarly, the Australian territories are required to provide annual reports on the outcomes of the profiled groups. Schools are also required to provide the state authorities with educational plans. These documents highlight how the individuals in that particular institution will meet the set literacy standards. Funds are allocated after a rigorous assessment of outcomes from each institution (Gorard, Smith, Benadusi, Demeuse, Greger & Meuret, 2010)

  1. Community Support

A community is described as a collection of people living in one area. In Australia, schools admit students from local communities, through zoning policies. It is seen that communities play a crucial role in shaping Australian education. There are various ways that Australian communities may help their underprivileged members, in the field of education. Low socio-economic groups often lack finances for carrying out secondary educational activities. To counter this, local communities may pool resources together, to provide cost-effective solutions. For instance, they may fund a supplementary tuition program for their students. Similarly, schools in such socio-economic communities often lack adequate resources. Some schools lack computers and scientific equipment. Local communities may raise funds for such purposes. Alternatively, communities have the ability to engage the state governments successfully (Larson & Ovando, 2001).

Indigenous communities have been identified as a special group in Australian education. To improve their access, participation and outcomes in educational activities, communities need to increase their involvement with them. First, they may engage indigenous peoples in dialogue, to inform them on the benefits of education for them. For instance, they may explain education as a pathway for better opportunities in the future. Similarly, communities should be more tolerant to the cultures of indigenous people. That way, they will feel more comfortable as they seek education (Gorard et al., 2010).

Rural people have problems in accessing education. For instance, they live far away from educational institutions. To promote their participation in educational programs, communities may advocate for the building of new schools, closer to the rural people. Alternatively, the communities may promote education through different platforms. For instance, communities may use online platforms for offering education to their students. Finally, Australian communities have a role in ensuring that their institutions are run properly. They are allowed to raise complaints with the way state education is provided. For instance, communities are responsible for scrutinizing the state education financial records. This ensures that schools with needy students receive the necessary funding.






















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Argy, F. (2007). Education inequalities in Australia > Institute of Advanced Studies: The University of Western Australia. Retrieved from

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2004). 1370.0 – Measures of Australia’s Progress, 2004. Retrieved from

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006). 4160.0 – Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001. Retrieved from

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Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). 1301.0 – Year Book Australia, 2012. Retrieved from

Australian Catholic University: Public Policy Institute (2011). Issue Paper 1: Equity and Education (1). Retrieved from

Campbell, Perri. & Kelly, Peter James. & Harrison, Lyn M. & Alfred Deakin Research Institute. (2012). The problem of aboriginal marginalisation: education, labour markets and social and emotional well-being. Geelong, Vic:  Alfred Deakin Research Institute, Deakin University

Department of Immigration and Citizenship (2013). Australian Immigration Fact Sheet 2. Key Facts about Immigration. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from

Field, S., Kuczera, M., Pont, B., & Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2007). No more failures: Ten steps to equity in education. Paris: OECD.

Global Research (2005). Rising Tide of Xenophobia: Australia’s Shallow Multiculturalism | Global Research. Retrieved from

Gorard, S., Smith, E., Benadusi, L., Demeuse, M., Greger, D., & Meuret, D. (2010). Equity in education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harrison, D. (2011). Private schools provide best academic results. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

Larson, C. L., & Ovando, C. J. (2001). The color of bureaucracy: The politics of equity in mulicultural school communities. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Malin, M., & Maidment, D. (2003). Education, Indigenous Survival and Well-being: Emerging Ideas and Programs. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, The, 32, 85-100.



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