Education Resource Gaps in Australia Remain Amongst the Largest in the World

The following is a summary of a new Education Research Brief published by Save Our Schools. It can be downloaded below.

Disadvantaged students in Australia are being denied equal opportunities to learn because they face far more shortages of teachers and material resources than advantaged students. The gaps in access to education resources between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Australia, between rural and city schools and between public and private schools are huge. Not only are they amongst the largest in the OECD but they are also amongst the largest in the world. This is totally unacceptable for a country that regards itself as egalitarian.

Data from PISA 2018 published in a supplementary report by the OECD show that disadvantaged schools in Australia experience more education staff (teachers and assistants) shortages and more shortages or inadequate material resources (educational materials and infrastructure) than advantaged schools. Advantaged schools are much better equipped to provide opportunities to learn. The resource gaps are largely unchanged from PISA 2015. The extent of the gaps is appalling.

Australia has the largest gap in education staff shortages between disadvantaged and advantaged schools in the OECD and the 7th largest of 79 countries/cities participating in PISA 2018. Australia also has the 3rd largest gap in the shortage or inadequacy of educational material and physical infrastructure between disadvantaged and advantaged schools in the OECD. The Australian gap is the 11th largest out of countries/regions participating in PISA 2018.

Rural schools in Australia also have greater human and material shortages than city schools. The gap in the shortage of education staff is the 2nd largest in the OECD. The gap is also the 3rd largest of all countries/cities participating in PISA 2018. Only Columbia and Uruguay have a larger gap. The gap in material resources between rural and city schools is the 3rd largest in the OECD and the 10th largest of the countries/cities participating in PISA 2018.

Public schools face much greater shortages of educational staff and material resources than private schools. Private schools are far better equipped in terms of human and material resources than public schools. The gap in the shortage of education staff between public and private schools is 10th largest in the OECD. The gap in shortages or inadequacy in educational materials and infrastructure is the 5th largest in the OECD

The OECD analysis of the PISA results found that Australia is one of 21 OECD countries where shortage of education staff is strongly associated with lower student achievement in reading. The reduction in student learning in Australia is equivalent to about six months of learning and is the equal 5th largest of the 21 countries.

In addition, Australia is one of 15 OECD countries where shortage of material resources is strongly associated with lower student achievement in reading. The impact on student learning in Australia is equivalent to over six months of learning and is the equal second largest of the 15 countries.

The impact of human and material shortages on student learning is greatest in disadvantaged schools. Shortages in advantaged schools are very small by international standards and the OECD analysis shows that the impact on student learning is much reduced when student and school socio-economic background is taken into account.

Australian governments are effectively discriminating against low SES schools in terms of their access to resources. They have failed to ensure high quality teaching and physical resources in these schools while high SES schools have amongst the most and best quality resources in the OECD.

The relative lack of teaching and physical resources in low SES schools in Australia contributes significantly to lower achievement by disadvantaged 15-year-old students and to the very large achievement gaps between disadvantaged and advantaged students of about three years of learning. This has deleterious effects on many individual lives, society and the economy.

Lifting the results of low SES and other disadvantaged students requires better targeting of teaching and material resources to disadvantaged schools as many studies show. It is imperative that Australian governments – Federal and state – do more to provide adequate resources for disadvantaged schools if the large achievement gaps are to be reduced.

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