Aussie kids' educational success tied to family background

“Australia is well below the OECD average in its capacity to detach background from outcome in our education system,” SA Minister for Education and Child Development and SA Minister for Higher Education and Skills, the Hon. Susan Close has told a CEDA audience in Adelaide.

At the event Education to employment: are we doing enough? Ms Close detailed the major trends shaping education in South Australia and Australia more broadly.

She said the rapid changes in technology are one of the major trends the education system would have to account for.

“The power of computing increases exponentially every few months. That is unheralded transformation. That is the kind of revolution that historians, when they look back, will wonder how we managed this time,” she said.

“It is probably more dramatic than the industrial revolution, and we’ve seen the way that transformed the entire planet. This will change the world of work, the world of being at home, and the world of learning.”

She said the second major trend Australians are facing is the “internationalisation of our world”.

“While there are some that rail against it, and some – quite rightly – that see dangers and pitfalls in internationalisation, we’re never going back,” she said.

“We never, as a species, have spent so much time with people from other cultures and different places, and you can’t put that genie back in the bottle – and I wouldn’t want to for a minute.

“What it means is, the children and young people who are studying today are going to be acting in a global way. A way that we weren’t well prepared for, but they must be.

“This includes being able to understand other cultures, speaking in other languages, but also having the mindset that everything they do is competing on an international level.”

She described these first two trends as “exciting and terrifying in equal measure”, but said the third trend she wanted to highlight was a much unhappier trend: the rise of inequality. 

“We’re seeing domestically a rise in inequality,” Ms Close said.

“Internationally, you can say that broadly, there are fewer people in extreme poverty than ever before, fewer people dying of starvation or starvation-related diseases, infant mortality is constantly improving, and we’re seeing a general trend of improvement.

“We are struggling in some of our Western countries, with this inequality. And the inequality manifests itself in a very real way in our education system.

“We are well below the OECD average in the capacity to detach background from outcome in our education system. And I raise that because the previous two trends require us to be better at education and we’re doing that at a time when our education system is producing divergent results largely dependent on where those children have come from, and what their family backgrounds are.

“It is a feature of our education system that we need to recognise squarely and honestly. Because if we don’t, in this time of tremendous transformation, what we will see is that there are a percentage of our children and of our people that may be as high as 15 per cent, who won’t make it; who won’t be able to be employed in this new world.”

In addition to being excluded from the opportunities offered to others, she said this could also result in instances where youth actively become a problem, and end up in the criminal justice system or in the child protection system.

“We must address that if we are all to have the kind of prosperous futures that we expect – that we promise our children that they will have,” she said.

Ms Close also detailed some of the initiatives the South Australian Government has been undertaking to ensure jobs and employment for youth, including broadening high school qualifications to include vocational training, focusing on creating jobs through infrastructure investment, and new jobs grants.

Ms Close’s keynote address was followed by a panel discussion which included herself, as well as speakers:
  • Scott Harris, Chief Executive, Beacon Foundation;Gregg Harris, General Manager – Retail SA/NT, National Australia Bank;
  • Nicole Dwyer, Chief Executive Officer, Workskil Australia;
  • Scott Morath, Director of Operations – Buildings and Infrastructure, Jacobs; and
  • Jan Owen AM, Chief Executive Officer, Foundation for Young Australians.