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Value of learning still linked to wealth

Well-off students and their disadvantaged peers are more sharply divided about the value of education in Australia than in most other developed countries.

A new global study confirms students from higher socio-economic backgrounds are much more likely to believe school has prepared them for adult life.

Of the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Australia placed fourth behind the United States, Mexico and Britain on a measure of this gap.

The results have renewed calls for Australia to step up its efforts to give all students confidence in the education system.

They come amid a federal government push to boost school funding by $6.5 billion a year and introduce a new system that advocates say will improve support for disadvantaged students.

Nearly 17,000 Australian 15-year-old students took part in the study by the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment. They were asked a range of questions including whether school had done little to prepare them for adult life.

When the results were broken down by socio-economic status, the study found a gap of up to 12.5 percentage points between the top quarter and the bottom quarter of Australian students.

About 88.3 per cent of students in the top quarter denied school had done little to prepare them for adulthood, but only 75.8 per cent in the bottom quarter rejected the claim.

The gap was higher than in most of the 34 OECD member countries, except for the USA (16.5 percentage points), Mexico (14.3) and Britain (13).

The Netherlands had no gap between the top and bottom quarters, while Greece recorded a result of minus 13.3 percentage points, meaning students from high socio-economic groups had a more negative view than their disadvantaged peers.

Professor Andreas Schleicher, who was Special Adviser on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary-General, said if students did not not see the value in education, they would not make the investment in learning necessary to succeed.

He said students' attitudes also tended to be more positive in private than in public schools.

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