14 SES 02 B, Partnership-building among Schools and Communities
The last few decades have seen the idea of aspirations gaining currency in Australian education policy through important reviews and reports such as the Gonski Review on school funding (Australian Government, 2011) and the Bradley Report on higher education participation (Commonwealth of Australia, 2008). Central to both policies is the goal to increase the participation in education of students of low socio-economic background. The Bradley Report, in particular, identifies an ‘aspirational gap’ between the highest and lowest socio-economic groups in society. It sets a target of 40% of 25-34 year old achieving ‘at least a bachelor-level qualification by 2020’ as a policy direction motivated by equity issues and national productivity (Commonwealth of Australia, 2008, p. xiv). This policy discourse has been criticised for explaining an apparent lack of aspirations by disadvantaged groups as an individual motivational trait (Bok, 2010) and a deficit on their ability to act on their self-capitalisation (Sellar, 2013) rather than focusing on the structural barriers faced by these social groups. Most importantly, for our study, a heavy emphasis on socio-economic disadvantaged on the Bradley Report ‘excludes other forms of inequity’ such as gender and racial ones (Sellar, 2013, p. 249). We concur with this analysis and further emphasise that education policies have tended to ignore spatial inequities (see Cuervo, 2016).
This paper contributes to redress this spatial blindness on discussion about regional and rural students post-school aspirations. It does so by examining the associations between access to various forms of social capital and aspirations for post-school education and work drawing on data collected from over 400 students attending government secondary schools located in the Greater Shepparton region, in Victoria. Within the various measures of social capital, we focus on one type of parent-derived social capital: discussions with parents; and two types of student-derived social capital: participation in extracurricular activities and the level of aspirations of their friends.
There is a plethora of research drawing on cultural and social capital theories for explanations of the association between family background and educational achievement and attainment, however, we focus on examinations of the associations between levels of educational achievement and attainment and levels of cultural and social capital derived from engagement in parent-child discussions and participation in extracurricular activities. Research shows that higher-educated parents engage in more frequent discussions with their children (see Dika & Singh 2002 for an overview) and that students who engage in more frequent discussions with their parents are more likely to hold higher educational aspirations (Perna & Titus 2005). Furthermore, students with highly-educated mothers were more likely to engage in cultural activities both within and outside of, the family home, than children with lower-educated mothers (Gracia 2015). Participation in extracurricular activities is positively associated with educational attainment (Blomfeld & Barber 2010; Dika & Singh 2002; Pfeifer & Corneilissen 2010; Weininger et al 2015); levels of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, standardised test scores and levels of self-confidence (see Gibbs et al. 2015 for an overview). Extracurricular activities provide opportunities for students to engage with others outside of the family and school networks (Gibbs et al 2015). Young people select into these peer groups, thus benefiting from the likelihood of accessing social capital through their relationships with those with whom they share values and experiences (Bassani 2007).
This paper draws on data collected from 460 Year 10, Year 11 and Year 12 students attending the six selected schools in the Greater Shepparton region. The survey instrument included questions about the student’s family background, their aspirations for educational attainment and employment; and measures of cultural and social capital. The project was approved by the La Trobe University ethics committee, the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) and each of the six school principals. All students in Year 10, 11 and 12, and their parents, were provided with information letters about the research project and consent forms. Although, students were able to complete the questionnaire on-line or on paper, only three students completed the questionnaire on-line. Students were given the opportunity to withdraw at any time and no incentives were offered to students who participated in the project. The collection of data was facilitated by the executive officer of the Better Together Alliance and teaching staff at each of the schools with the assistance of our research assistant. This research study took place in Shepparton, the fourth largest regional city in Victoria with a population of around 125,000. Victoria, the state where Shepparton is located, is one of the smallest states in Australia, resembling in distance between urban and regional and rural areas as those in European countries. Shepparton is located 190 kilometres from Melbourne and is plagued by high levels of youth unemployment; a severe lack of employment opportunities and constrained educational opportunities (ABS, 2011). Shepparton has a high NEET (not in employment or education) rate for those aged between 20 and 24 years at 19% (ABS Census 2011). Young people who leave school before completing Year 12 are more likely to experience precarious employment in seasonal, casual and part-time jobs, financial hardship, health issues, involvement in the justice system and homelessness (VCOSS 2015. Some of the factors associated with disengagement from secondary school include: family mobility, family violence, mental health issues, being a carer for a family member, low levels of literacy and numeracy, pregnancy and parenting (Alford 2014). These factors are also barriers to employment. In March 2015, the unemployment rate for those aged between 15 and 24 years was 18.2% which is 4.6 percentage points higher than that of Australia overall.
Our analysis shows that students with low-educated parents had lower levels of parent-derived social capital indicating that they had fewer discussions with their parents compared to peers with university-educated parents. They also had peers that were less likely to hold aspirations for university study and to have a paid job. Students with parents in part-time employment or with neither parent employed (20% of our sample) were less likely as those with at least one parent in full-time employment to participate in extra-curricular activities, less likely to have discussions with their parents about their future and had peers with lower levels of expectations in terms of getting a professional job. In terms of future educational aspirations, we found that students with low educated parents were less than half as likely as students with university-educated parents to hold aspirations for university studies. We also found that first generation migrants and females were more likely than males and Australian born to hold aspirations for university. Students with parents employed in professional occupations were more likely than other students to hold aspirations for university. In terms of future occupational aspirations, we found that students with higher levels of cultural and social capital were less likely to want a manual job relative to wanting a professional job; and students with higher levels of peer-derived social capital were less likely to want a manual job relative to wanting a professional job. Overall, our data points out that the higher the social capital of a student the more likely they will continue with university studies and a professional job. This kind of post-school pathway is associated with the need to leave regional and rural towns. This means that these towns run the risk to lose some of their most capable and educated future.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2011) Census 2011. Canberra: ABS. Alford, K. (2014) Socio economic profile of Shepparton: compared with other Victorian regional cities. Victoria and Australia Sir Andrew and Lady Fairley Foundation Report. Australian Government (2011). Gonski Review: School Funding. Canberra: Australian Government. Bassani, C. (2007) Five dimensions of social capital theory as they pertain to youth studies. Journal of Youth Studies, 10(1):17-34. Blomfeld, C.J. and Barber, B.L. (2010) Australian adolescents’ extracurricular activity participation and positive development: is the relationship mediated by peer attributes. Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology, 10: 108-122. Bok, J. (2010) The capacity to aspire to higher education: ‘It's like making them do a play without a script’. Critical Studies in Education, 51(2): 163-178. Commonwealth of Australia (2008) Bradley Report on Higher Education. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Cuervo, H. (2016) Understanding social justice in rural education. New York: Plagrave. Dika, S. L. and Singh, K. (2002) Applications of social capital in educational literature: A critical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 72: 31-60. Gibbs, B.G., Erickson, L.D., Dufur, M.J. and Miles, A. (2015) Extracurricular associations and college enrolment. Social Science Research, 50: 367-381. Gracia, P. (2015) Parent-child leisure activities and cultural capital in the United Kingdom: The gendered effects of education and social class. Social Science Research, 52:290-302. Perna, L.W. and Titus, M.A. (2005) The relationship between parental involvement as social capital and college enrolment: An examination of racial/ethnic difference. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(5): 485-518. Pfeifer, C. and Cornelissen, T. (2010) The impact of participation in sports on educational attainment- new evidence from Germany. Economics of Education Review, 29:94-103. Sellar, S. (2013) Equity, markets and the politics of aspiration in Australian higher education. Discourse, 34(2): 245-258. (VCOSS) Victorian Council of Social Service and Youth Affairs Council Victoria (2015) Addressing education disadvantage: Supporting young Victorians to complete their education. Melbourne: Victorian Government. Weininger, E.B., Lareau. A. and Conley, D. (2015) What money doesn’t buy: Class resources and children’s participation in organised extracurricular activities. Social Forces 94(2): 479-503.
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