Over half of Victoria’s regional and rural schools have witnessed a notable decrease in education results over the past 10 years, analysis by the Age has revealed.
The analysis has brought attention to the increasing educational achievement gap between metropolitan and country pupils.
"It’s of concern because we want all communities to be strong and to be able to regenerate," Stephen Lamb, the research chair in education at Victoria University, told the Age. "That becomes harder when the population is not obtaining the same education and opportunities that are occurring in city areas."
The average study score of students in one rural Victorian school decreased from 29 in 2009 to 23 in 2018, while another in the state’s west fell from 32 to 24. The study score is a ranking position out of 50, which shows an individual's academic performance in senior secondary school compared with all other students across Victoria.
Overall, state schools saw their median study scores reduced by nearly two points.
The scores from schools in the state’s cities stayed the same.
The analysis further showed year 9 students in regional schools were around 12 months behind city students in math. A separate report, by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, revealed cultural factors — like whether a student had an Indigenous or Polynesian-language background – also heavily impacted study scores.
Among the key contributors to the widening gap are a lack of subject choice in rural schools, less student motivation due to unattainable university fees, and the difficulty for country students to attend university open days and study seminars in metropolitan areas.
Meredith Peace, president of the Australian Education Union Victoria, said ongoing drought, overall remoteness, and declining populations also meant enticing skilled teachers to rural areas was difficult.
"I don’t think there are enough incentives," she told the Age.
Cindy McLeish, the state’s shadow minister for education, said the figures were so disconcerting that a state inquiry into rural and regional education might be necessary.
"You want kids in the country to do well, but you also want them to stay in their towns and give back to the community," she stated. "They need to keep kids engaged in education. There are so many jobs in the country. They can’t get doctors, speech therapists, chefs, and welders."
In an attempt to curb the increasing education gap, the Victorian government has significantly upped funding for country schools, including contributing $21.5 million for an education plan in the state’s greater rural Shepparton area. Thirty-three regional schools will additionally be upgraded.
The federal government has also pledged $400 million into regional higher education over five years.