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Equity in Education

 

COVID-19 has presented us with new challenges, whilst also exacerbating existing ones.

Around the world schools have faced sudden closures, meaning over the last few months, many students have had to learn remotely for the very first time. Several people have stated that in light of this forced transition to online learning, “at least we are all in the same boat” – although this has not been the case. 

While the lack of equity among Australian schools has always been an underlying issue, it has been significantly highlighted through the transition to remote learning

While we have all been forced to ‘travel by boat’, some are travelling by ‘super-yachts’, while others are struggling to stay afloat – Schools, students and teachers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have been disproportionately disadvantaged from the shift to online learning.

For those equipped with the appropriate digital devices, a suitable learning space at home, and a stable wifi connection, COVID-19 has brought significantly less learning difficulties compared to those in a dissimilar position. While support networks also impact a student’s ability to participate effectively, without the basic resources, just getting started is near impossible, especially online. 

Many teachers and schools have attempted to aid the gaps between their student’s online experiences. Though, when there are twenty students in a class, and only half can properly access the online learning resources necessary, it becomes increasingly difficult for students to have access to the same quality of education. 

Pivot’s recent Whitepaper, ‘Socioeconomic disparities in Australian schools during the COVID-19 pandemic’, shows a noticeable difference between teachers in low-ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage*) schools and high-ICSEA schools, and their confidence regarding:

Their schools’ ability to support students’ learning online 

A staggering 52.8% of the 3,000+ teachers surveyed from the lowest-ICSEA schools did not feel confident that they could support their students through online learning, compared to 25.8% of teachers from the highest-ICSEA schools. (Flack et al, P.17)

The efficacy of their online communication with students 

Over half (51.8%) of the 3,000+ teachers surveyed from the lowest-ICSEA schools did not feel they could effectively communicate with their students online, compared to 24.4% of teachers from the highest-ICSEA schools. (Flack et al, P.19)

Their primary instructional technology’s ability to support student engagement  

An alarming 63.7% of the 3,000+ teachers surveyed from the lowest-ICSEA schools did not feel they could support student engagement through primary technology, compared to 43.4% of teachers from the highest-ICSEA schools. (Flack et al, P.21)  

Whilst the data shows that teachers from all backgrounds struggled through this shift, each category consistently demonstrates that teachers from lower-ICSEA schools were significantly less confident that they would be able to fully support their students. 

As we transition into this new technological era, remote education will not likely be just a one time phenomenon. As we have already seen, recent COVID-19 outbreaks have caused several schools to revert back to some form of online learning, and at this stage, a future with this pandemic is unpredictable. 

If we are to provide young people with an equal opportunity to succeed, we need to address these disparities before the gap is too large to fill. 

Every student deserves an equal opportunity to prosper, regardless of their background or circumstance. While this may be held as a popular belief, the longer inequity in Australian education is not addressed, the less these students at lower-ICSEA schools will believe their voice matters or that their future is as bright as their affluent peer’s.

Wren Gillett

 

*ICSEA Value: Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) is a scale that represents levels of educational advantage. The ISCEA score is derived directly from information in student enrolment records, such as parental occupation and educational level. The four quarters representing a scale of relative disadvantage (“Q1”) through to relative advantage (“Q4”).

 

More about Wren… 

Wren is Pivot’s student voice advocate. She was part of VicSRC’s executive committee for close to three years, and chaired the executive team within this time. She has a been a youth champion for charitable organisations such as the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and Dolly’s Dream, and has spoken at multiple conferences and events across Australia about the power and significance of student voice, agency and empowerment. Wren is currently in her first year of university majoring in journalism, and continues to be a passionate spokesperson for young people. 

 

References: 

C. B. Flack, L. Walker, A. Bickerstaff and C. Margetts, 2020, ‘Socioeconomic disparities in Australian schools during the COVID-19 pandemic’, Pivot Professional Learning and Education Perfect, available from: https://www.pivotpl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Pivot_Socioeconomic-disparities-in-Australian-schooling-during-COVID-19_1July2020.pdf 

For more information of the Socioeconomic disparities in Australian schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, go to insightsfor.education.