For the majority of young people in the ACT their involvement in the education system will be a positive experience and lead them on to further education, training and employment. However for some young people, circumstances and experiences lead them to fall behind with their learning, leaving them more vulnerable to hardship later in life.
Equity in education means that personal or social circumstances, including socio-economic status, ethnic origin or family background, are not obstacles to achieving educational potential, and future employment and life-long financial security (OECD, 2012).
A well-educated population is essential to a country’s economic and social development – a higher level of education means higher earnings, better health and a longer life. So it is in society’s interest to ensure that all children and adults have access to a wide variety of educational opportunities (OECD, 2012).
But let’s not confuse equity with equality.
But don’t we have the highest average Year 12 attainment in the country?
Despite the level of Year 12 attainment in the ACT being above the national average, inequities still exist in the educational achievement of disadvantaged cohorts of young Canberrans.
Educational disadvantage in the ACT can be described as ‘hidden’. As a result of the diversity within Canberra’s suburbs, most ACT schools have small numbers of highly disadvantaged students, rather than disadvantage being concentrated in a few schools.
Researchers in curriculum and educational systems and policy from the University of Canberra, Philip Roberts and Dr Simon Leonard, highlight the issues that arise when only looking at the average performance of students in the ACT. They suggest that the ACT relies on the large cohort of students with high socio-economic status to maintain the appearance that the ACT is leading the country when it comes to education.
A close examination of the PISA report shows that the ACT quickly falls to near the bottom of the nation when it comes to equity in education with only the Northern Territory showing a greater connection between SES background and PISA achievement.
The educational achievement of young Canberrans is everyone’s business. The ACT economy, oriented primarily towards service delivery and public administration, is knowledge-based and relies on a highly educated population to support its growth.
In a city in which most young people will have an educational experience that will equip them with the skills they need to participate economically, socially and politically in society, it is simply unacceptable and unsustainable that there are students falling behind, not achieving and disengaging from education in the ACT.
By working together, community services and schools can improve equity in our education system and support all young Canberrans to succeed at school.
To find out more, read our Issues Paper: Education Inequity in the ACT.