Could Mentorship be the Solution to Educational Inequality?

In 2011, the Gonski Report was published. A landmark examination of the education system, it warned of a burgeoning division across the nation’s student body. The report also offered a solution: reallocate government funding in order to better support areas that needed it.

Over the years that followed, the Australian’s governments indecision over whether to enact the changes recommended by the report have only served to make things worse.

A study released by Mitchell Institute entitled Educational Opportunities in Australia 2015 found an up to 26% gap between students considered most disadvantaged and least disadvantaged when it came to hitting milestones in the classroom.

Equally of concern is that this disparity remains post-schooling, at a level of around 20%. This makes it harder for them to pursue tertiary education or training, find full-time employment or, as is often the case, support their own children throughout their studies.

So when schools do not have the resources to support the needs of every individual, and parents have neither the knowledge or inclination to assist, how are students to overcome the circumstances impeding their potential?

The answer is mentorship.

It’s a position we often relate to higher-level, singularly focused learning – you might have a mentor who trains you for your role in a specific field, for instance – but mentorship goes beyond that. As it goes beyond tutoring, a function that comprises only part of a mentor’s role.

Three elements define the advantage students receive as part of a mentorship program:

Greater Connection: In a room full of 30 students, teachers will know each student, but rarely have the time to see to the needs of each individually. It can be hard then, for students who are struggling, to develop the kind of relationship that sees them reaching out for help.

By providing one-on-one experiences, successful mentorship is structured around these relationships. Founded on the concept of attachment theory, the bonds that form provide the safety net supporting students as they seek to reengage with their work.

Better Communication: Under a ‘pass or fail’ system, it’s no wonder troubled students lack the confidence to define their own value.

In an article for The Telegraph, law student Faye Naylor explains how mentorship instilled in her the courage to reach out to a college that had initially rejected her application.

“She was initially rejected by Greenwich due to her choice of business studies at A-level, but after consulting with her mentor, she hand-wrote a letter to the head of law, explaining the reasons why she felt her qualification would be of benefit, which resulted in her being offered a place.

She said: ‘Without the mentoring, I don’t think I would have gone to university and pursued something I wanted to do’.

Stronger Relationships: Great mentors teach not only classwork, but the foundations of social relationships that students dealing with inequality often lack. In many ways, this is even more important than course content, for it provides them with the tools to connect with others, providing better opportunities in both career prospects and personal lives.

Our society spends so much time arguing why solutions to educational inequality aren’t actually solutions at all – Gonski is too expensive, parents could just send their kids to better schools – that we have become unwilling to actually give them a try. That needs to change. It’s time for schools to start implementing mentorship program within their halls, or directing students to external programs like Raise that will be of help.

It’s time to bridge the gap.

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