Charity calls for support for disadvantaged students slipping behind in education
Children’s education charity The Smith Family has launched its 2020 Winter Appeal with a warning that thousands of young Australians experiencing disadvantage are at a heightened risk of disengaging from their education, amid the challenges posed by COVID-19.
The appeal aims to raise $4.2 million by 30 June to deliver life-changing learning and mentoring programs to students in need.
With one in six Australian children and young people already living below the poverty line before the outbreak of COVID-19, and the entire nation now facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic, the organisation says young people need additional support now, more than ever.
“Since March, we have seen the biggest disruption to education ever posed to Australian children. As communities, schools and families continue to face difficult times, The Smith Family is deeply concerned that children who were already living in disadvantage before COVID-19, will face additional hardship, and risk slipping further behind in their education,” said The Smith Family’s CEO Dr Lisa O’Brien.
“Not only has their education been disrupted, but their families may not have been in the best position to support their children’s home learning. This may be due to a lack of access to digital technology, having inadequate learning spaces at home, or parents’ own schooling experiences potentially limiting the educational support they can offer their children,” she said.
The cost of lost learning threatens to fall hardest on those most in need of education. When students fall behind in their learning they can become unmotivated, O’Brien said. This in turn affects their desire to go school, and our research shows that when attendance slips, so does educational achievement.
“The last thing we want is for the thousands of children we support to fall further behind with their learning as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and its ongoing effects,” said Dr O’Brien. “That’s why we’re calling on the Australian public to help us reach children in need, to ensure atrisk students are given the right support, at this critical time, so they can catch up and keep up in their learning.”
For more than 30 years, The Smith Family – with the support of the Australian community – has been able to help tens of thousands of children thrive in their education through a range of targeted programs that begin in the early years of schooling and continue to tertiary level.
In the last year alone, Smith Family programs reached almost 170,000 Australian students experiencing disadvantage. However, Dr O’Brien said that due to the widespread challenges presented by COVID-19, The Smith Family’s education programs are playing an even more crucial role right now, in support of students’ learning.
“We know that the education gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, at age 15, is equivalent to around three years of schooling. Sadly, the children who need that extra bit of support to keep up at school, are from families who can least afford it, or often, provide it,” she said.
The out-of-school learning and mentoring programs The Smith Family provides give young people the skills and motivation they need to stay in school and experience first-hand, the value of finishing Year 12 to open up more opportunities for themselves.
“During this time we are also delivering many of these life-changing programs remotely – including online mentoring and literacy and numeracy programs. This helps relieve some of the pressure on families, and helps deliver educational structure, during periods of remote learning, and when children are back in the classroom,” said Dr O’Brien.
Funds raised through The Smith Family’s Winter Appeal will help 10,740 children experiencing disadvantage, including enabling access to a range of extra numeracy and literacy programs. These include Student2Student, which helps young students improve their reading skills by pairing them with older ‘reading buddies’, as well as after-school Learning Clubs, now being trialled online.
“In recent months we have seen incredible resilience from our families who recognise how important their children’s education is. Now more than ever I urge those in the Australian community who can, to please get behind our Winter Appeal and support these young Australians to build better futures. Together we can make this happen by ensuring they can make the most of their education,” said Dr O’Brien.