Support for returning to learning is key to protecting future employment
2 June 2020 at 4:00 pm
The divide between socioeconomic disadvantaged youth and those from wealthier homes is at risk of widening even further, writes Renee Hancock, who is calling on state and federal governments to invest in a taskforce of youth workers.
As schools reopen in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, for some children it won’t be a case of simply going back to school and returning to learning, presenting a risk of growing unemployment and disadvantage among the next generation.
For young people who were already struggling to stay engaged at school pre-pandemic, there is a very real risk they won’t return at all, and statistics tell us that when young people go without an education, their future economic prospects are greatly diminished.
Before the coronavirus pandemic there were around 40,000 students nationally who were detached from the education system.
My fear is this number will grow as more families face economic hardship and young people experience additional levels of stress and poverty.
The Les Twentyman Foundation has been working with students from disadvantaged backgrounds for the past 36 years. We know that financial hardship impedes educational progress, leading to a lack of resources and support which is often compounded by mental health issues.
In the battle against disadvantage, education is a key ally, with research showing children who disengage from their education more likely to experience adverse social, economic and academic outcomes, leading to intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.
Research from Victoria University shows that by the time they reach high school, children who are financially disadvantaged are 10 times more likely to be at or below the minimum standard expected in reading skills, and they experience lower school completion rates with almost 30 per cent not finishing Year 12.
During the lock-down, we have worked with young people who have struggled to access the internet and devices, who didn’t have appropriate spaces to study and often didn’t have parents or carers who had the capacity to support them with learning. Devastatingly, some of these families were forced to reach out to us for help with basic needs like food – kids were (and continue to be) hungry. Some students tried their best in difficult circumstances, others lost interest and did the minimum or no learning at home.
As the initial shock of the pandemic eases and we look to adjust and move forward towards some kind of normality, we must consider the risk of growing numbers of this generation of young people falling out of the system, and creating a longer-term threat of growing socioeconomic disadvantage.
Right now the focus is on the hundreds of thousands of people newly unemployed and the shock to the economy. Meanwhile, there’s a flow-on effect rippling down to some young people that threatens their future.
The divide between socioeconomic disadvantaged youth and those from wealthier homes is at risk of widening even further, and state and federal governments need to invest in a taskforce of youth workers across our school system to protect and support young people, their families and teachers.
This kind of support goes far beyond the capacity of our schools to administer, and will ensure thousands of young Australians, who may have fallen out of the education system, remain in school.
At the Les Twentyman Foundation, we know what works, with research showing that our Positive Futures program, which operates in four schools across Melbourne, makes an immediate and longer-term difference to at-risk young people:
- 90 per cent of students in the program reported they have someone they can turn to for help.
- 90 per cent of students in the program feel more confident that they can reach their goals in life.
- 100 per cent of students reported that they are more likely to finish school.
A number of respondents stated to the researchers that they would have left school or been expelled without the Positive Futures program being in their life.
The program uses early intervention strategies in a one-on-one, group workshop and outreach capacity to strengthen young people’s confidence, resilience and improve their emotional regulation. A program like Positive Futures is critical to supporting the emotional and mental wellbeing of at-risk young people as they return to the classroom environment.
We cannot allow this virus to wipe out the hope of tens of thousands of young Australians to a positive life, which is why we must act today to protect their lives and their futures.