At the broadest level, education and training can be thought of as the lifetime process of obtaining knowledge, attitudes, skills, and socially valued qualities of character and behaviour. In this sense, education is initiated at birth, encouraged early by social interaction and specific learning aids, developed in schooling and other formal pathways of learning, and continued throughout adult life. Education can occur within a variety of environments, some more formal than others.
Formal learning has traditionally taken place within three major sectors: schools, vocational education and training, and higher education. Typically this is characterised by delivery that is systematic, planned and organised ahead of time, and which usually involves some evaluation of achievement. However, in recent years the boundaries between these sectors have become less distinct. Many other kinds of structured learning can take place outside formal institutions and can continue after a person has completed schooling or gained trade or higher qualifications. For instance, structured learning might be undertaken in the workplace, in order to acquire, develop or upgrade work-related skills.
At the other end of the spectrum is non-formal education, which is intentional, but is delivered in an informal and unstructured way, on an ad hoc basis. It does not necessarily involve any student-teacher relationship nor evaluation of achievement. Non-formal education includes on-the-job training and self-directed learning.
Core measures of educational activity in Australia currently focus on participation (the process of education), attainment and other outcomes (the outputs) and educational resources (the inputs). The structure of this chapter reflects these core measures. After a brief discussion of government responsibilities in education, the chapter describes the hierarchy of participation from preschool through to higher education. It then examines educational demand and attainment, and concludes with information on sources of educational funding.
The chapter concludes with an article, Paying for university education, which examines the three main sources of funding for higher education and, in particular, the role of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) and its impact on students.