Equity and Equality in Australia's Education System

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  • Topic: Education, Programme for International Student Assessment, School
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  • Published : October 30, 2010
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Equity and Equality in Australia's education system
There is an ongoing debate in the field of educational research and practice in Australia regarding the scope of equity and equality of opportunity within the nation’s education system. In their published article, Donnely & Caro (2008), present two opposing opinions in approaching the question. Donnely (2008) suggests that overall Australia is a country that has high equity and high quality in its education system and that the nation “does better than many other countries in overcoming disadvantage.” (Donnely & Caro, 2008, p18). Caro (2008) opposes this view, putting forward an argument that suggests Australia has an education system that privileges the already privileged and marginalizes children from lower socio-economic backgrounds; she primarily blames government policies over the past decade for “undermining and under-funding public schools.” (Donnely & Caro, 2008, p.19). The following paper will focus on analyzing and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments in an attempt to determine which of their views is a more convincing portrayal of the reality of social equality within the Australian education system. Donnely (2008) focuses his positive view of social equality on an assumption that it is “simplistic to argue that Australia’s current education system reinforces traditional forms of social disadvantage and social inequality.” (p.19). In his argument he focuses blame on poor quality teaching, poor curriculum, and an insufficient level of classroom interaction on the “degree to which individuals are able and willing to work hard and overcome perceived disadvantages.” (Donnely & Caro, 2008, p.19). Donelly (2008) highlights a policy action taken by the Whitlam Government in the 1970’s, known as the Disadvantaged Schools Programme, and states that it was in his view, “wasteful and pointless” (p.18). Perhaps this is an indication that Donnely would view any similar action by the Government today as being wasteful and pointless also. He also makes known that those who oppose his view are members of what he calls the “cultural left” (p.18). This illustrates Donnely’s bias against that political paradigm. Donnely (2008) attempts to refute the idea that Australia’s education system is lacking in the promotion of social equality by presenting positive data taken from the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Donnely (2008) cites Geoff Masters, the head of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), who says that the 2006 PISA data indicates “that the relationship between socio-economic background and student achievement in Australia is weaker than the OECD average.” (as cited by Donnely & Caro, 2008, p.18). Donnely (2008) does recognise some disparity between the states in relation to the PISA data, in that he mentions briefly that “some states are not as successful as others” (p.19). He also briefly acknowledges that the Northern Territory’s results for indigenous students are “far from satisfactory” (p.19). Although he does acknowledge this, he does not make the connection between this disparity and systemic social disadvantage, nor does he attempt to explain why this disparity exists if not because of inequality of opportunity in schooling. Donnely (2008) presents some positive data, taken from an extract of the Finfacts Business News, May 15, 2006, that suggests that in Australia “immigrants perform as well as their native counterparts.” (as cited by Donnely & Caro, 2008, p.18). Considering this is presented with no factual data, and is taken from an extract of an academic article, it may be considered merely opinion or flimsy evidence at best. Donnely’s argument has a number of limitations, one of the major problems with his assessment of the PISA results is that he seems to suggest that overall,...
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