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The Effects of Cultural Capital in the Education System and the Follow on Effect: Less Representation of Lower Socio- Economic Students

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The Effects of Cultural Capital in the Education System and the Follow on Effect:

Less representation of lower socio- economic students in Australian Universities.

INTRODUCTION

       Is the theory ‘Cultural Capital’ an explanation for Australian universities having less representation of students from low socio economic status backgrounds? This essay will argue yes cultural capital does play a major role in this imbalance. It will look at studies that discuss the effects of cultural capital on lower SES students in the education system. The essay will examine how the school curriculum contradicts the cultural capital of many lower SES students and how this may affect their results and consequently their choices in not only going to university but in what field they will study.  

 

       Cultural capital or habitus is the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory, here he explains how it first came to light, The notion of cultural capital initially presented itself to me, in the course of research, as a theoretical hypothesis which made it possible to explain the unequal scholastic achievement of children originating from the different social classes” (Classes and classifications 1979).There are different forms of cultural capital; embodied capital, habitus, is an integral part of the person, their disposition, developed from the environment around them, it is what shapes their beliefs, their attitudes, their means of interpreting the world, this all plays a significant role in their decision making, their choices, aspirations, performance, and their capacities to engage and succeed in main stream society. Nurturing the educational aspirations of young people is a key component to current educational reforms in meeting the targets of higher educational participation. This will aid in overcoming one of the barriers to participation in higher education from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (Bradley et al. 2009, p. xiv).

Deborah Tranter from Hawke Research Institute for Sustainable Societies University of South Australia undertook an in-depth study of the culture of three of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged metropolitan schools. She states; “The schools have a pervading culture of academic non-achievement and the attempts of the universities to counter this through a variety of special entry schemes appear to have had little influence on student aspirations” (Tranter 2005, p. 3). Here is an extract taken from one of the interviews Deborah Tranter did in the study;

 I don’t know about other schools, but the first time that I heard anything

about uni, when I was in Year 12, like, we hadn’t had, like, information

… in Year 12 we went for like an excursion, like to, not this uni, but to

like Adelaide Uni, and that’s the first time I had ever, ever, been to a

uni before in my life. I didn’t ever know they were here. (Male second

year uni student ) (Tranter 2005, p. 3).

It would seem students from lower SES backgrounds seem to face some challenges from not only their own cultural capital having an effect on their education but perhaps to from the cultural capital of the schools they attend.  

There are some disappointing statistic from ‘Report On Government services 2014’; Nationally in 2012, year 12 completion rates for students from low socio-economic backgrounds were (67 per cent) below those for students from a high socio-economic background (80 per cent). 

This could be due to their earlier mind sets as suggested by Hillman after briefing the longitudinal surveys of Australia Youth, Hillman suggests that student’s intentions are formed from a healthy attitude towards school along with past success and background environment and it is these intentions that play a key role in their participation in year 12, with the thought in mind of further studies (Hillman 2010, p. 1).

 Further statistics collected from the Report On Government services 2014, shows the results of the transmission of cultural capital, cultural reproduction, from parent to child, It shows that parental education levels and parental occupations can be a reliable predictor of the child’s educational success. The study shows the proportion of students who achieved at or above the national minimum standard for reading by parental education and parental occupation.  

Year 9 2012

Parental education: Bachelor degree or above: Childs results = 97.6 ± 0.2    

Parental education: Year 11 or equivalent or below = Childs results = 81.6 ± 0.7                          Parental occupation:Senior management and qualified professionals:Childs results = 97.6 ± .2
Parental occupation: Not in paid work in previous 12 months: Childs results = 78.8 ± 1.1

These statistics are not positive for lower SES students. It could be extra tutoring that is needed to close the gaps in achievement or a change in the curriculum to accommodate students with less main stream cultural capital.

       Cultural capital not only plays a major role in lower SES students going to university but also the subjects they are represented in. ‘A fair go’ the great Australia slogan, does not seem to transmit to the school  curriculum. A competitive academic curriculum does not seem to give students that don’t fit the status quo of the dominant cultural a chance to break out of the low end subjects in the curriculum. It appears to be structured to keep lower SES students out of the high end subjects, subjects that lead to greater potential of gaining higher employment leading to a higher place in society and greater wealth. It seems to be designed to keep the powers in the right hands, so to speak. Which is what Deborah Tranter discovered when undertaking an in-depth study of the cultural of three socioeconomically disadvantaged schools.

 Edinburgh high School where there were only six Higher Education Selection Subjects (HESS) available to those students who might be interested in qualifying for university entrance. All but two of these subjects were the publicly assessed rather than the publicly examined subjects, subjects like Studies in the Social Sciences, Home Economics and Physical Education. Art (four students) and Biology (two students) were the only publicly examined subjects ……….. The other subjects offered were a mix of the school-assessed subjects and vocational subjects (a student must pass at least four HESS subjects to gain university entrance but can count one school-assessed subject towards their tertiary education score). This school had determined that the traditional competitive academic curriculum was not applicable to its students. They had focused on subjects that they thought would be relevant and achievable for the students, which might fit their habitus, but all at the low end of the curriculum hierarchy…….. In making these choices for the students the school had severely limited their opportunity of gaining a tertiary entry ranking (Tranter 2005, pp. 14-15).

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