OECD Says Australia is ‘Low Equity’ in Educational Resources

A new look at the 2012 PISA results published last week by the OECD shows that socially advantaged schools in Australia have far greater educational resources than disadvantaged schools. Australia has the fifth largest resource disparity out of 34 OECD countries and one of the largest of all countries participating in PISA.

The OECD’s new PISA in Focus labels Australia as “low equity” in education resource allocation. The resource gap is a factor in the large achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Australia. It highlights the need for Australia to devote more resources to disadvantaged students.

The disparity in educational resources between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Australia is shameful. It is exceeded only by Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey and the United States amongst OECD countries. Overall, only ten out of 65 countries participating in PISA have greater inequity in the allocation of educational resources across schools than Australia. These include under-developed countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia and Peru.

In sharp contrast to Australia, high performing countries and cities tend to allocate resources more equitably across schools regardless of their socio-economic profile. Each of 11 OECD countries and six East Asian countries and cities that have higher mathematics results than Australia have a much lower resource gap between socially advantaged and disadvantaged schools [see Chart 1].

In Finland, disadvantaged schools have significantly more educational resources than advantaged schools. Finland is also the country with the smallest achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools. Students in disadvantaged schools in Finland are about one year behind their peers in advantaged schools. In contrast, students in disadvantaged schools in Australia are about two and a half years behind their advantaged counterparts.

In other high performing countries such as Korea, Netherlands, Estonia, Germany, Austria, and Singapore there is little difference between the resources available to advantaged and disadvantaged schools. In Singapore, for example, the difference between resources in advantaged and disadvantaged schools is almost zero. In Korea, slightly more resources are directed toward disadvantaged schools than advantaged schools.

Of other high performing countries and cities in mathematics, Shanghai and Vietnam have a relatively large gap but it is still less than Australia’s. The gap in Australia is very much higher than the average for all OECD countries.

Educational resources include instructional materials such as textbooks, science laboratory equipment, computers and computer software for instruction, internet connectivity, and library materials. They are an important factor contributing to student learning. The OECD estimates that 30 per cent of the variation in mathematics performance across OECD countries is explained by inequitable allocation of education resources between socially advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

But, it is not just physical education resources that are inequitably allocated between schools in Australia. It is also the case with human resources.

A supplementary report on the 2012 PISA results by the OECD last year showed that disadvantaged schools in Australia have much higher teacher shortages in mathematics than advantaged schools. Indeed, the teacher shortage gap between disadvantaged and advantaged schools in Australia is the largest of the 65 countries participating in PISA, apart from Taiwan. X

The teacher shortage gap between disadvantaged and advantaged schools in higher performing countries and cities is generally much lower than in Australia [Chart 2]. In Estonia and Korea, the teacher shortage in mathematics is actually less in disadvantaged schools than advantaged schools. There is little difference in teacher shortage across schools in Finland, Macao, Netherlands, Poland and Singapore.

The results from PISA 2012 show large inequalities between disadvantaged and advantaged students in Australia. Low SES students are about two and a half years behind high SES students in reading, mathematics and science; Indigenous students are three and a half or more years behind high SES students; and remote area students are about three years behind. These gaps have not decreased since 2006 and increased substantially in mathematics. The average learning gap between disadvantaged and advantaged schools is nearly three years.

Governments in Australia have conspicuously failed to provide disadvantaged schools with the human and material resources necessary to reduce these achievement gaps. All students regardless of their socio-economic background should have access to quality educational resources such as up-to-date textbooks and have teachers qualified in the subjects they teach.

The Gonski funding model offers a way to redress the inequity in resources between disadvantaged and advantaged schools. However, it has been sabotaged by the Coalition Government. It will mean continuing disadvantage and social inequity in education in Australia.

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