October 28, 2020

Background and wealth heavily impact educational success, Australian study finds

Background and wealth heavily impact educational success, Australian study finds

A landmark study of Australia’s education system has found that the opportunities available to those studying from pre-school to adulthood depend on their postcodes and family backgrounds. Crucially, the data shows that those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds fall through the cracks. The Educational Opportunity in Australia report has established that immediate extra resources are required to help disadvantaged, Indigenous and remote students. Sergio Macklin, deputy lead of education policy at Victoria University’s Michell Institute said that: “Educational success is strongly linked to the wealth of a young person's family and where they grow up.”

IZA World of Labor author Lorenzo Cappellari has explored what the evidence has to say and has reached a similar conclusion. According to him: “Intergenerational transmission of […] education may occur because richer parents have more financial resources to devote to their children and can afford greater investments in their human capital. It may also occur because richer parents are typically more educated and can devote better quality time to childrearing, particularly in the early years, when key cognitive and other skills are being formed that will pay off later in higher incomes.”

Cappellari adds that: “Policies to counteract disparities in family background, such as education interventions for poor children, may foster intergenerational mobility.” During last December’s Alice Springs Education Council meeting education ministers declared that they would deliver a system that would produce excellence and equity but the report critiques the progress of that pledge. The poor results last year have now been given further emphasis due to the change to remote learning as some students don’t have internet access or home stability, which causes them to fall weeks behind their peers.

“The children and young people that were being worst served by the education system are probably the ones that are being most affected by it, so you'll see employment stress in families dramatically increase student vulnerability,” Macklin commented. The report studied the progress of more than 300,000 students from when they started school to early adulthood and Macklin believes that the education divide will take a generation to fix. The data shows that disadvantaged students are more than twice as likely as their peers to not be studying or working by the age of 24. Macklin added that: “what this report highlights is that we're losing young people's opportunities in adulthood—and that's a real problem for young people.”

Read Lorenzo Cappellari’s article Income inequality and social origins.