Sunday, April 17, 2011

Welfare and schooling

I read this article today and wondered at the effect welfare has on education.  The article discusses how different areas have large welfare elements and inferred that it needed fixing.  The Balga area (30% on welfare) and the Girrawheen area (21% on welfare) were mentioned as two of the highest areas on welfare in Australia.  They also happen to be two of the areas that I grew up in.

The cost of housing drives the low/no income population into areas,  welfare and those on subsistence incomes. Both areas mentioned in the article were also state housing areas before policy distributed state housing across all suburbs.  This population will always be grouped to some degree.  The article identifies how concentrated the "have nots" have become in WA compared to other states.

Gentrification is the only thing that "fixes" an area.  As the area becomes more desirable (due to proximity to jobs in the city), low income earners will "cash out" and move further away or be forced out by increasing rent values.  Although it does just create a new area elsewhere with the same issues.

Low levels of education drives this segment of the population people into low paid/subsistence jobs or welfare whether due to lack of language skills, poor health and hygeine, poor diet and obesity, large family caring requirements (3+ children), poor financial management ability, low base EQ or IQ, low levels of schooling or mental health issues.  Many see the education system as failing them (and it does in many cases fail to provide them with pathways into the workforce) and pass this prejudice onto their children.  This article talks about the entry point of children into year 1.  In these areas it is not surprising that children cannot read, where parents cannot model these behaviours to children prior to school.  Thus the cycle occurs from generation to generation.

This is most obvious in our indigenous or welfare families.  Those students not affected by alcohol and drugs in vitro, have difficult home environments in which to learn.  We need to rethink "quick fix" solutions and focus on long term measures.  Schools are succeeding across the state if with every generation (16-20 years) one level of schooling is achieved.  Education to year 7 and wishing for higher schooling, education to year 10 and work ready, and finally the holy grail of education: education to year 11/12 and achieving TAFE or  university entry.  This is not shown in NAPLAN results.  Furthermore, the problem doesn't go away with each generation, as the next wave of immigrants will have the same issues.

I don't know if any amount of "fixing" can actually correct this number of issues.  Certainly lack of public transport as mentioned in the first article is not a major solution.  Breaking up public housing was certainly a start as it gives families better role models than was available by grouping them together in state housing slums. 

The message that "education" is the only way out of the rut will not work until educational equality is again established for this group from a very young age.  This has been lost as many schools have a pastoral, rather than academic focus - attempting to ensure happy environments rather than taking a narrower focus and focusing on the long term issue of education.  Pastoral approaches need to be tied closely to curriculum success. To reach parity, students that start at a lower level, have to work harder and/or smarter.  They don't need pampering, school will not be the best time of their lives (if it is then it is to the detriment of their adult life).  Eggs will get broken along the way and they need caring for by a different system outside of schooling. 

Schools cannot be a catchall for social change.  They are one element of a big picture that can work for the majority of students.  If we allow diminishing returns (increasing support to students that cannot be supported without additional funding) then we will fail the majority of our students.

Where parents cannot provide adequate support, the welfare state must step in to assist and parents must support this assistance. It is a public service message that needs to be supported with real results for the majority of students and ultimately for Australian society as a whole.

Otherwise, sadly, a two class system (with the "haves" in private schooling and the "have nots" in underfunded public schooling) will be the result as opposed to the "occassional" problem family causing issues for society.  Creating and promoting a two class system through education would be a sad event indeed.

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