By Rebecca Egan and Baz Iyer
The education disparity: the non-profit solution
The results of the 2012 National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy serve as a contemporary reminder that, despite strong state-wide economic growth, significant differences persist between the educational outcomes of metropolitan and non-indigenous students, and those from an indigenous background or rural background.
In fact: students from a ‘very remote’ area were seven times more likely to fall below the National Minimum Standard for literacy and numeracy than those from a metropolitan area, and indigenous students were eight times less likely than non-indigenous students to reach the National Minimum Standards.
While the underlying cause of this disparity, a convoluted array of social, cultural and historical factors, has been well debated, solutions to these factors are far from clear.
A lack of teachers and infrastructure in rural schools exacerbates these underlying causes. Significant hurdles to entering rural teaching include a lack of jobs for spouses, sub-standard health and education infrastructure, inadequate compensation packages, and difficulty adjusting to rural lifestyles; these factors also contribute to an unsustainably low retention rate. Without adequate resources and infrastructure, rural teachers are further prevented from delivering a satisfactory level of education.
The Gonski Report, presented to Federal Government in February 2012, found a significant shortfall in the funding required to maintain the public education system. The report recommended that the public and private sector distribute $5.4 billion per year across schools. The report also advocated for smaller class sizes, more specialist teachers in outcomes including literacy and numeracy, a greater support for students with higher needs and disabilities, and additional training and support for teachers.
The Gonski report arguably fails to stipulate adequate solutions to the underlying causes of the education disparity. A traditional, purely funding-based approach, even one that caters for a school’s location, size and the needs of the students, will be a salve only; it will not solve the deep-seated community and social causes of the rural and indigenous educational disparity.
A potential solution exists: the Gonski Report recommended building connections between public schools and “philanthropic partners” in order to provide time, money, and relevant expertise to the schooling system. These philanthropic partners and not-for-profit entities may potentially provide a more flexible and organic approach to tackling underlying disparity causes.
The EDvance not-for-profit program focuses on equipping principals in lower socioeconomic schools with valuable business and leadership skills, allowing them to promote higher quality teaching, improved support systems, and a greater sense of community within their schools. Programs like EDvance utilise a different approach to traditional government funding; rather than a heavy-handed interventionist methodology that pours resources directly into the education system, EDvance seeks a more sustainable solution that empowers principals to independently control school governance.
Teach Learn Grow, a university-based volunteer organisation co-founded by UWA student and 2013 Rhodes Scholar David Sherwood, provides weeklong tutoring and mentoring trips to rural and indigenous remote Western Australian primary schools. The incredible success of Teach Learn Grow in engendering understanding of education concepts is a testament to the power of creative, focussed and fun one-on-one tutoring sessions to inspire learning. A low-cost, flexible and extremely effective service for some of Western Australia’s neediest communities, Teach Learn Grow enables hundreds of university students each year to engage in a life-changing and meaningful rural education experience.
Real solutions to the educational disparity recognise the importance of sustainable and rich community involvement. Wunan, an aboriginal development organisation based in the East Kimberley, focuses on involving the whole community in the education of children. Wunan takes a non-paternalistic approach that works directly with families, builds their confidence and encourages them to engage with the schooling system. Wunan’s sustainable approach has slowly begun reversing decades of historic and social disadvantage.
The inability of a traditional, funding-centric model of education reform to fully address the inequity within Australia’s school system has been ameliorated by non-profit programs such as Teach Learn Grow, Wunan and EDvance, which have taken unique and effective approaches to this disparity. While no one program could possibly offer a complete solution, these non-profit programs provide an increasingly compelling and relevant solution to the educational disparity.
Rebecca Egan and Baz Iyer are executive members of Teach Learn Grow. To find out more about how you can get involve with Teach Learn Grow, visit our website: http://www.teachlearngrow.com.au