Demand for essential aid soars as inflation and COVID bite
Karzis said disadvantaged students needed this kind of support because they didn’t own laptops for remote learning, and some didn’t even have a quiet place to sit.
“A lot of these things will be going on. People don’t realize that if you’re underprivileged you can never afford a laptop if you have five or three kids,” she said.
“People don’t expect there to be so many kids who just don’t have shirts, underwear, socks – the most basic things.
“We are talking about children who go to school with their mother’s shirt. We’ve heard a lot about this lately.
Public schools educate nearly two-thirds of all Victorian students, including more than 80% of the state’s most disadvantaged, said Trevor Cobbold, a former Productivity Commission economist.
“All of those families would be really struggling to keep up with the rising costs of essential school supplies,” said Cobbold, who is now a spokesperson for public school lobby group Save Our Schools. “And the cost of these essentials is increasing dramatically due to increasing technology requirements.”
Shayne Rule, principal of Lakeview Senior College in the western suburb of Caroline Springs, said her school has used State Schools’ Relief extensively this year to procure school uniforms, shoes, laptops, calculators and myki cards. .
Rule said it was almost impossible for students to go without a laptop, especially when so many of them were sick. “Previously we would probably give more allowances to these students, but children are disadvantaged if they are not online when they are away, and absences have exploded,” he said.
The state government distributed school essentials such as laptops, tablets, dongles and SIM cards during the early days of remote learning, and allowed students to keep the computers .
It also rolled out a $480 million tutoring program, aimed at students with low English skills or at risk of school disengagement, and those whose home environment was not conducive to learning. on line.
Nonetheless, a survey of over 1,100 parents whose children were supported by The Smith Family found that 74% of caregivers struggled to help them during COVID due to a lack of devices, internet access , skills or time.
Gail McHardy, chief executive of Parents Victoria and member of the board of trustees of State Schools’ Relief, said the pandemic had left many people previously comfortable in a precarious financial situation, and exposed a digital divide in the Victorian schools.
“Of course, the device [access] was a problem pre-pandemic, but it just put it on steroids because kids had to learn from home on a device, whereas at school they could access or share one,” he said. she declared.
“Even parents who can afford the device say they have to update it every few years and it’s a big expense, so imagine for families who don’t. [have the means].”
To receive relief items from public schools, families approach their school, which then makes the request on their behalf through a portal. “Sometimes it’s homelessness or domestic violence,” Karzis said. “We don’t ask for anything; we just trust what the directors or welfare officers say.
State Schools’ Relief has operated through floods, bushfires, recessions and health crises and says it is the only such organization in Australia.
It relies primarily on funding from the Ministry of Education, as well as support from schools, businesses, foundations and donations from ministry employees. It also raises funds through the sale of uniforms and work clothes.
International studies have overwhelmingly shown that disadvantaged students are the hardest hit by the pandemic and remote learning, said Julie Sonnemann of the Grattan Institute.
“Grattan’s analysis of NAPLAN in 2021 showed that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students did not widen overall in Victoria, but there was a widening in some areas,” he said. she declared.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘We understand how tuition fees can add up for parents and the cost of living rises – which is why help is available for families with costs such as uniforms, breakfasts, camps, excursions, digital devices and much more. through the State Schools Relief program.
He added that the Victorian government had spent more than $42 million on the Affordable School Uniform Scheme, operated by State Schools’ Relief, to support pupils in need since 2015.
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