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‘Inherited’ geography and social status key in young people’s success

15 April 20150 comments

'Inherited'Aspirations and geographic location are a key influence on young people’s engagement with post-school education and training, according to new research.

A new study explores how aspirations are affected by where a young person lives. It finds that young people are significantly influenced by their educational and career ‘inheritance’.

By encountering educational cultures in the form of new ideas or experiences different from their own they are more likely to make life choices divergent from those they ‘inherit’, the study says.

The three-year study, titled Geographical dimensions of social inclusion and vocational education and training (VET) in Australia and produced by the Centre for the Economics of Education and Training at Monash University and the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) says vocational education and training provides an essential pathway of choice to further education and work.

But is says the difference in status between VET and university pathways is an enduring issue.

“Practical and financial constraints significantly impact on young people’s aspirations and opportunities, while a particular concern for young people in regional and outer urban areas is tolerable travel to study distances,” the report says.

The study used data from qualitative research conducted in four sites: two neighbourhoods in regional and rural Gippsland, Victoria, and two urban fringe sites in South Australia, in the north and south of Adelaide.

It investigated the mechanisms that enable some people in low socioeconomic status (SES) neighbourhoods to overcome neighbourhood effects and participate in post-school education and training. It also analysed young people’s lives in different geographic contexts.

The researchers identified three critical factors that influence outcomes in young people’s education and training.

The first category involves geographic factors and influences — both the physical and structural geography of the places in which young people live and learn and the accompanying psychology attached to those places.

The second category encompasses social influences, including the influence of gender and gender-based family traditions and expectations; the influence of family lifestyle, values and dispositions; and the influence of the social networks with which young people and their families are involved.

The third category is concerned with the influence of ‘critical events and disruptions’ on young people’s experiences, choices and aspirations. The researchers said these disruptions can often prompt the development of new aspirations and capabilities.

“These geographic and social factors include the practical and structural aspects of place, such as distance from centres of learning, lack of transport, lack of broadband, costs of travel, limited education providers and programs, and the unintended consequences of funding policies for education and training,” the study said.

“These factors also include what we have termed ‘the social perceptions of place’ or ‘the psychology of place’. Even where schools encouraged young people to consider university study, the influences and expectations of families, friends and other social networks often meant that young people chose to stay in the local place, adapting their aspirations in ways that were gendered and which replicated family and local traditions. This was found to be the case for young men in particular,” it said.

The researchers said that geography and place continue to be powerful influences in shaping young people’s career aspirations, imaginings and choice.

“They also reinforce the finding of earlier studies — that there is no single determinant of education aspirations. Instead, the aspirations and choices of young people who live in socially disadvantaged urban fringe, rural and regional places are the product of a complex interplay of factors,” the study said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist