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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Price Of (State) Secondary Education

I've just started my new Western Chances applications for two young women in our Year 10 class. They are being nominated for leadership skills. I think I may have posted about Western Chances before, but not recently.

Western Chances is a scholarship aimed at students in the western suburbs of Melbourne, where a lot of kids have very little money and not much chance of going to university, apart from the TAFE colleges and small local universities. TAFE is fine, but what if you want to do medicine or engineering? At one of the bigger universities? In theory, everyone can go if they're willing to repay some of the debt once they get a job that will have enough income to do so. In practice, there are a lot of expenses you might not have expected, and even if you have a job at McDonald's to help with your share house, it may not be enough... And some have up-front fees; I remember a student of ours who got into nursing, but ended up taking a year off to work up the up-front fees.

And then there's the time before you go to university. This wonderful scholarship was set up some years ago by Terry Bracks, wife of a former Victorian Premier. (That's a state Governor for my US readers). It's not a government thing or it would have been long gone. It relies on donations to pay the staff and help get scholarships out to students who are very good at something but who just can't afford the costs of even a state education. I made a donation this year and last, taken from my inheritance of a few thousand dollars from my late friend jan howard finder(lower-case intended), who passed away a couple of years ago. Businesses do their bit and the staff, who are amazing people, get all sorts of goodies for their Western Chances scholars, as well as the money. I get phone calls from them offering a place in an engineering camp or a free camp of some other kind, and when one of my students said she was interested in events management, the lady I deal with said she knew an events manager who could help to mentor the young lady.

But here's the thing: kids change their minds. These two went for counselling from their teachers and were advised on the subjects best for them. And the girl who had planned on events management changed her mind and decided on teaching. Specifically Foods teaching. For that, she plans on doing a VET subject, Hospitality. Which will cost her $400. And probably a textbook.

And General Maths - $88 for the textbook and $200 for a special calculator.

And Business Management - if she does that as a VET subject, it will cost $200. The VCE version(I hope that's what she's planning) will cost less, but there's certainly a textbook involved.

And Health and Human Development(I'm not sure of how much the textbook for that will cost, but it's bound to be $70-80).

And Psychology? $108 for the text and workbook.

In some cases, second-hand books are possible, but not always. Psychology's textbook has changed, so this year books had to be bought new. Even if they can get them second-hand this year, there's still the workbook, which has to be bought new because you write in them.

How on earth do most kids manage? Not all the kids at my school are from poor families, but that doesn't mean they can afford all the textbooks, not to mention calculators (a good reason not to do maths! And now the Federal government is talking about making maths compulsory all the way through).

And kids who are doing the expensive practical subjects(VET) are quite often kids from poorer families.

The other girl is not as complicated as this one, but she too has some expensive subject choices. Maths alone will cost her $288 and she may need tutoring. I said I'd see if I can get her some money for tutoring - there's an inexpensive tutoring service in the area, but it would still be around $200 altogether for 20 sessions. I'm hoping that there will be free reconditioned laptop computers available this year - there wen't last year, which is why the boys I nominated were given the money and told to arrange their own. It worked out, but they had to agree to make that their scholarship gift for the year. It was too dear for anything else. They already have their special calculators, thank heaven!

I may have to say, "If we can't get a reconditioned computer, you'll have to make a choice."

I know that textbook authors do a lot of work and have to be up-to-date, but really, do textbooks have to be quite that expensive?

Ah, well, I think the young ladies might have to settle for help towards their needs; I just don't think I can get them money for the lot. It will depend on how many applications WC gets this year - and it is very popular.

This is one of those things I do when I'm not being a library and English teacher or writing books or short stories. The kids deserve a hand up! And a few hundred a year can make a huge difference.

I'm off work today after a sleepless night; if you work in an office you can sit at your desk and try to focus, but not when you have kids to teach. It's not a job you can get away with being tired. The kids know when you're faking it.

So, off to rest a bit.


2 comments:

Lexa Cain said...

Wow, that sounds really tough. I had no problem going to college - took out huge loans and spent years paying them back, but at a very low payment. It was simple. I guess the 80s were different to now. I hope your students get what they need, and kudos to you for helping!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Lexa. In the early 80s here, tertiary education was free - a legacy of Gough Whitlam, a left-wing Prime Minister we had for a very short time, who was effectively stabbed in the back by his conservative opponent Malcolm Fraser(who, weirdly, ended up becoming the darling of the left when he started moving left in his old age and had a state funeral, mourned by all...). It didn't last long either. Another PM said, "Why should the poor be paying tax to subsidise the tertiary education of the rich?" Except they're already doing that for primary and secondary... Fees were brought back, although it works like this: you get a loan called HECS. Then, when you get a job, you pay back - not all of it, but if you've done something expensive like medicine you could be paying back almost for your working life. If you're from a wealthy family you can save money by paying up-front for university. So some occupations are the preserve of people who went to private schools and whose parents have money. Unless there's a scholarship of one kind or another(by the way, universities here don't do sports scholarships. If you're that good, there is the specialised Institute of Sport).

But textbooks! Everyone needs them, fees or not. And this is high school. Imagine what the uni books will cost!