opinion

'Accidental' vaccines and camping trips: The stark divide between our public and private schools.

I’ve noticed that hardly anyone uses the phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ this time around. 

Because it’s becoming abundantly clear that we aren't. 

We have beach picnics and cliff walks in Bondi, and mounted police in Western Sydney. We’ve seen private school boys ‘accidentally’ vaccinated, while unvaxxed essential workers of the Fairfield LGA must endure COVID testing every three days. 

Watch: Everything that is happening in Sydney right now. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

I was at a meeting of NSW teachers when the extended lockdown was announced last week.

In a conversation about their priorities, one said: “My school is in Fairfield so you can imagine what we’re going through right now.” 

The meeting paused to offer solidarity, as we contemplated the impossible situation of her and her students.  

Western and South Western Sydney schools do a tremendous job under enormously difficult conditions. 

Even while depleted of resources, they punch above their weight, often out-perform the rest of the state with regards to student improvement. 

Their schools are enriched with the most linguistically diverse students in NSW and educate most of Sydney’s students from refugee backgrounds. 

In these areas schools’ role in the community goes far beyond teaching and learning.  

Often schools fill the function of the state. They’re community hubs for families full of essential workers. They fill the gaps left by socio-economic disadvantage, especially under lockdown when many parents do not have the luxury to work from home. 

As usual, the pandemic shines a light all on all the inequities that exist in society and systems. 

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These inequities allowed the elite private school, Scots College, dispensation to take students on buses to Kangaroo Valley. 

Meanwhile, teachers in Western Sydney pack resource packs to be sent home, because families need to contend with connectivity issues and shared devices between family members.  

Staff at Scots College will cite extra safety measures and outline the ways they have complied government regulations. But the fact remains, it’s one ruled for us, and another rule for them.

To educators in West and South West Sydney the divided Sydney is nothing new. 

On this side of the ‘latte line’ teachers have campaigned for equitable funding, building upgrades, shade over playground areas, more casual staff, improved resources including updated IT equipment. 

Meanwhile, they watch funding for private schools, particularly those around the Eastern and Northern suburbs, growing faster than funding for public schools, and private schools receiving 75 per cent of all federal funding

Australia is the fourth most privatised country in the OECD for education, after Mexico, Colombia and Turkey. 

High performing education systems such as Finland, Sweden and Norway spend almost nothing on private education, choosing to strengthen the whole sector before propping up individual choice. 

The media attention and community anger over special treatment for the wealthy highlights the real danger in a divided Sydney – there is a social divide that is deepening. 

Rich, white, wealthy and middle-class Sydneysiders are treated with care and compassion. Multicultural and working class Sydney is a problem to be policed.

What this means for our kids is that Sydney is raising a generation of young men who will grow up to believe that the rules don’t apply to them, that obstacles can be removed for them and their privilege entitles them to more.

At the same time, there’s a generation of children who the government treats with suspicion – all viewed as potential problems and law breakers, based on their postcode.  

This pandemic must change far more than our health measures. We have an opportunity to change the pandemic of inequity, and we must take it. 

Dr Rachael Jacobs is lectures in Education at Western Sydney University. All views expressed are her own.

Feature Image: Getty.