Education inequity isn’t just about money

Blaise Joseph

16 November 2018 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

Opponents of non-government schools often claim Australia’s school system is grossly inequitable. But this is not true.

Multiple international OECD reports have concluded the same thing: Australia has lower inequity than the OECD average. That is, student socio-economic status has less of an impact on student achievement in Australia than it does on average in the OECD.

A recent OECD report attributed 11.7% of the variation in Australian students’ science scores to socio-economic status, compared with the 12.9% OECD average and 16.8% in top-performing country, Singapore.

While on average, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds tend to have lower academic performance, many students — known as ‘resilient’ students — buck this trend and perform relatively well.

So how can we produce more resilient students? An OECD study on the topic found there is no significant relationship between school resources and the proportion of resilient students in Australia. While extra money for schools would certainly help in some developing countries, in countries like Australia — which already has relatively high school funding levels — more funds are unlikely to spark significant improvement, due to diminishing marginal returns on spending.

However, the same OECD study found there is a significant relationship between having a classroom climate conducive to learning — in other words, orderly classes and less student disruption — and student resilience in Australia. We know that Australia’s school system appears to have an issue with student misbehaviour. So perhaps the best policy approach to help disadvantaged students, is to focus on improving school climate in Australia, which wouldn’t necessarily require much more taxpayer funding.

It’s unfortunate that the political discourse about educational disadvantage is limited to ‘fairer funding’. In reality, there are other important issues being neglected.

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