The small business sector has done well out of the Federal Budget, and there has been a positive response from the local business community.
However, the Budget is not looking at the long-term future for businesses and for Australian communities. Sadly lacking is the support for education so that all our children, no matter what background they come from, will be able to succeed at school and be prepared for future employment.
In a climate where jobs are changing rapidly, there is an increasing need for better educated workers with flexibility, good communication and problem-solving skills, familiarity with rapidly changing technology, as well as literacy and numeracy skills. Many jobs that poorly educated people might be able to do are disappearing with the advances of technology.
The Abbott government will only fund one third of the promised Gonski funding over the next two years, and plans to abandon Gonski entirely after 2017. Schools that were counting on increased finances to extend literacy and numeracy programs to support children who need extra assistance will be forced to abandon these programs, or struggle for extra funding through parent fund-raising (with poorer areas suffering even more!) or cut funding back in other areas.
Australian and overseas research (including the OECD) shows that Australia’s lack of equity in education is increasing the gap between the performances of children from well-off families and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and this will impact on our future economic performance.
In NSW, disadvantaged students are performing well below their high SES peers. 40% of low SES Year 9 students, 50% of Indigenous students and 62% of remote area students do not achieve the writing standard. Year 9 students from Low SES backgrounds are over four years behind high SES students in reading, writing and numeracy. Indigenous and remote area students are five to six years behind.
The NSW government has been excellent in its support of Gonski funding, but this an Australia-wide problem. States will have to fight hard for the federal funding support that was promised.
Reducing inequality in education performances between rich and poor children is the most urgent education issue facing Australia. Investing in the full 6 years of the Gonski funding to help disadvantaged schools and students is not merely an expense: it is a worthwhile investment that Australia cannot afford NOT to do.
Studies show that putting further public funds into well-resourced private schools does not improve these students’ outcomes, however boosting the resources of under-resourced schools who do the ‘heavy lifting’ (public schools teach 80% of disadvantaged students) will reap huge results for the well-being, happiness and economic prosperity of our future society: improved health outcomes and positive participation in society and reduced unemployment, mental health problems, domestic violence and crime. A US study shows the yield to investment to be around 10%.
Another factor being overlooked is our population expansion. The education budget will be stretched further, and disadvantaged children will be affected the most.
To ignore the growing results of inequity in education means our communities will pay an even higher price in the future, and waste the potential contribution of students who are left behind to become ‘failures’, drop-outs and ‘leaners’. This is economic folly, and woeful social justice.
The Coalition budget is robbing the futures of this generation of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and Australia will be less than it could be.