When my friends overseas ask me what I think about Australian education, I tell them that we have the best schools in the world – but not for everyone. Indeed, according to internationally comparative evidence, the learning gap between the lowest and highest performing students in Australia is huge. At the age of 15, this learning gap equates to three years of schooling.
It is an inconvenient fact that one of the wealthiest countries in the world has one of the most unequal education systems among the rich part of the world, but this is what UNICEF and OECD are telling us.
What does educational inequality mean for parents and children here? Firstly, for those parents living in urban areas like Sydney, the big question is where to find a good and affordable school for their children. For many parents, the search starts as soon as the baby is born.
Secondly, for children the competition to get into schools of their parents’ choice often comes with extra pressure and burden already in the early years of primary school. Many children are required to attend extracurricular activities in and out of their school in order to boost their academic knowledge in literacy, numeracy and science as required by NAPLAN and admission tests. This is almost always at the expense of arts, music and play – at school, and at home.