Many of the population groups described below suffer disadvantage in a number of ways, but especially in their ability to access, or succeed in, education compared with the rest of the population. Consideration of these groups helps provide direction for the collection and analysis of education and training statistics.
MEN AND WOMEN
Males and females have very different patterns of advantage and disadvantage in education and training. There are still concerns about how males and females can be encouraged to participate in fields of education traditionally dominated by a particular sex (e.g. encouraging females into engineering and trade courses, and males into teaching and nursing courses). There are also concerns about boys in schools, particularly in relation to learning and behavioural problems and to their achievements in specific subject areas compared with girls. For women there are concerns that increased participation in education may not be carried through into comparable work outcomes and salaries.
LOW SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS
There is interest in a number of issues relating to the effect of low socioeconomic status on educational outcomes, for example, the extent to which individuals or families with a low socioeconomic status are unable to afford education beyond compulsory schooling. Also of interest is whether these individuals and families have difficulties meeting the costs of books, school outings and any voluntary fees charged by government schools. Special tuition for children in need of extra help, or extra-curricular activities such as music lessons, may also be beyond their family's means. Cultural or family attitudes to the valuing of education, and personal factors such as confidence, may inhibit students from a low socioeconomic background from continuing in education past compulsory schooling. Also, schools in more disadvantaged communities may face greater challenges in obtaining resources and support from parents and the local community.
Students who do not speak English well, or are of a different cultural background, may experience disadvantage in education, and government interest often focuses on what measures can be taken to improve educational access and outcomes for these groups. Students who are usually resident overseas but are studying in Australia may be here for many years as they complete one or more courses, and may face cultural and other problems with the education system. They often have no family support in Australia. Because their families or communities overseas have often paid for their tuition fees, they may also be under greater pressure to succeed.
The educational outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are often less favourable compared with the rest of the population. Factors affecting the access, participation rates, and attainment levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are complex, and may include economic disadvantage, social marginalisation, health problems, differences in community expectations and geographical isolation. These problems can be exacerbated by limited access to forms of education, or avenues of support, that take account of language and cultural differences.
Students living outside the major cities, especially those in rural and remote areas, may be disadvantaged in their education. The range of subjects and levels of study available to these students is often more limited, as can be their access to technology. They may also have limited or no access to non-compulsory education such as early childhood education and tertiary education. Many rural students have to move to urban areas to attend post-compulsory education. Problems caused by distance and isolation are often compounded by the costs associated with setting up home education facilities, or with living and studying away from home. In rural and remote areas there may also be limited employment opportunities, which can be a further disincentive to study beyond compulsory schooling.
EARLY SCHOOL LEAVERS
A number of recent studies suggest that early school leavers are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the labour force.2 With the increased importance of education and training to the labour market, this disadvantage is growing. This group are more likely to become unemployed and long-term unemployed. When they obtain work, it is more likely to be in the lower paid occupations. They are more likely to be from a low socioeconomic background in the first place and leaving school early may continue a cycle of disadvantage for themselves and their children.
PEOPLE RETURNING TO EDUCATION
With the rising importance of lifelong learning, issues relating to people returning to education after being in the labour force or raising children can be expected to grow in number. Their needs in education may be very different from those of people making a direct transit from compulsory to post-compulsory education.