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By UNICEF Australia
8 February 2019

We need to invest more in our education system in rural and regional areas, writes former country kid and now Monash Uni student Josh Brittain, 19.

My whole life I’ve benefited from Australia’s education system. It’s where I made most of my friends, where I matured and developed, where I learned most of the skills I use today. Sure, it’s had its ups and downs, but overall, I have absolutely loved my education journey.

But I’ve been incredibly lucky. 

My sister is one such example. She was let down by the education system, dropping out without support when she was young. This led to a sharp decline in both her mental and her physical health.

I applied to become a UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador because I wanted to do something about this issue. I was lucky, again, and I got the position. 

UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador Josh Brittain
UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador Josh Brittain
© UNICEF Australia/Patrick Moran

In this role with UNICEF I am uniquely placed to get a broad perspective on education in Australia. For the past few months I’ve been going around to schools and running consultations with kids, listening to them about how they feel about some of the big issues that affect them, one of which is education. 

Unfortunately, a lot of what I’ve heard has been negative.

The consultations I’ve been running have been in my home state of Victoria. If you visit Victoria, you might notice something funny about the number plates. ‘VICTORIA – THE EDUCATION STATE’.

What makes this painfully ironic is that when I talk to actual Victorians I hear again and again that kids don’t feel like they’re prepared at all for life after school. I hear from so many kids that their concerns and individual problems are overlooked by teachers. I hear so many kids telling me that their educational journey has been marred by bullying.

Josh listening to high school children, at a school in Victoria.
Josh listening to high school children, at a school in Victoria.
© UNICEF Australia

Don’t get me wrong, Australia is a great place to live and most of our young people get a decent education.

Forgive me for being idealistic, but I don’t want most of our young people to have a decent education.

Whether it’s in the most remote community or the most affluent suburb of Melbourne, every child deserves the best education we can give them, and our country needs the most competent and well-educated populace it can get.

For now, we’re falling short.

Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic minorities or rural areas are significantly less likely to make the transition from primary school to secondary school, and are more likely to be delayed in moving up a year level.

  • In very remote areas only 65 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are in school.
  • The retention rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in years 10-12 in government schools is under 60 per cent.
  • In major cities, 78 per cent of students complete year 12 or equivalent, compared to only 43 per cent of students in very remote areas.
Young school students
Young school students

There’s no reason for these issues to be permanent. Australia is a wealthy country. We have the money to build more schools in these rural areas, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in lower socioeconomic communities. 

We have world class universities in which to train teachers. We have the ability to change things. To be proud of our education system and know that it works for all kids.

All we’re lacking is the political will.

Make education a priority. It’s where our children and young people learn to socialise, read and write. School provides people with the opportunity to safely grow, develop and become productive members of society.

Whether you are a parent looking after a single child or a minister looking after a nation, put the education of our young people first.

UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors class of 2018-19
UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors class of 2018-19
© UNICEF Australia/Patrick Moran

Josh Brittain, 19, is a UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador. He grew up in Timboon, Victoria, and is currently studying international relations at Monash University.