News Michael Pascoe: National Party’s failure adds to educational disadvantage in the bush
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Michael Pascoe: National Party’s failure adds to educational disadvantage in the bush

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A graph illustrating one thing can sometimes be most telling about another.

For example, a study of NSW Year 3 NAPLAN results neatly encapsulates the repeated failure of governments to give a damn about regional and rural Australia.

Study the graph, then consider that the bush is supposed to have its own dedicated political party. You might wonder how such a party justifies its existence.

The National Party has proven adept at “political terrorism”, threatening to blow up Coalition governments when it doesn’t get its way on the matters it considers most important – fossil fuels, for example, or clearing land.

Source: UNSW Gonski Institute for Education. Data is based on 2017 results. Yellow dots refer to ‘regional, rural and remote areas’. Purple dots refer to ‘metro areas’.
  • Find the full dataset here

What the graph shows is that regional Australia is dudded in the present and the future – woefully lagging in household incomes now and its future dimmed by sub-par basic primary school educational attainment.

There are exceptions in some suburbs and towns – what makes this work of the University of NSW Gonski Data Lab very interesting – but overall, regional and rural towns represent a fat tail of low incomes and below-average primary education.

Where have the National Party “political terrorists” been when country people face starting life behind the pack, children predisposed to an unequal chance?

I don’t remember any Nats going to the barricades to win the extra investment and talent necessary for country schools to have a fair shake.

As explained in a Sydney Morning Herald report, the UNSW research throws up impressive exceptions to the rule that higher incomes equal higher marks.

“Household income in Hurstville in southern Sydney is less than $1800 a week, but the suburb’s year 3 students do just as well in NAPLAN as those from Turramurra and Hunters Hill,” report Jordan Baker and Nigel Gladstone.

“Households in the exclusive eastern suburbs community of Dover Heights earn $2900 a week, but its year 3 students’ results are on par with those from Bathurst and Ballina, whose families earn up to half as much.”

The study suggests community and parents shape education performance more than the usual suspects of school facilities and curriculum, according to former NSW Education Minister and now UNSW Professor Adrian Piccoli.

Sydney suburbs dominated by new migrants who value education more can overcome their weaker financial position to outperform richer suburbs.

But the exceptions point to a deep malaise in the overall bush community – a malaise meekly accepted by regional politics.

When the parental and community appreciation of education are sub-standard, investment in teachers and facilities becomes more important to try to make up for children starting behind.

Education is only one of the areas where the bush is left behind, but education ends up being the most important thing a society can do to build its future.

The graph, exceptions aside, points to regional and rural Australia remaining second rate in basic educational attainment – the start of a cycle of underachievement.

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