Partnership takes aim at educational inequity

Partnership takes aim at educational inequity

Thousands of Australian students impacted by poverty will receive much-needed support thanks to a successful partnership between a leading educational charity and one of Australia’s top office supply stores.

This year, Officeworks’ annual Back to School Appeal raised more than $1.3m for The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program, enabling an additional 2,000 students to access essential school supplies like uniforms, books and excursions.

The funds raised will also see students in need receive personal support and extra educational programs to help them stay motivated and connected to their learning.

21-year-old Emma is just one student who has been supported by Learning for Life over the past decade. She joined the program at 13 and received continued support throughout her education; from funding the art supplies needed at school, to the laptop and digital devices she currently uses while studying a Bachelor of Science at Swinburne University. Now, Emma has hopes of pursuing a career in forensic science.

“As a leading provider of educational materials and resources, we believe that every child should have equal access to a quality education, and we’re committed to promoting strong educational outcomes for all Australian students, no matter their circumstances,” Officeworks Managing Director Sarah Hunter told The Educator.

“Together with our long-term partners, The Smith Family and The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation [ALNF], we continue to identify opportunities and causes that support students who need it most and explore ways we can help bridge the digital divide for disadvantaged students across the country.”

Helping to close the digital divide

Over the course of more than a decade long partnership with The Smith Family, Officeworks’ customers and team members have contributed more than $9m through the annual Back to School Appeal, enabling The Smith Family to provide more than 14,000 one-year Learning for Life scholarships for students across Australia.

“In addition to our continued support of the Learning for Life program, we also donate educational materials to Australian students in need through a host of other programs,” Hunter said.

“Last year we donated 252 laptops to students through The Smith Family to provide access to the vital digital resources and technology required for their learning and educational development.”

Hunter said Officeworks continues to donate laptops as part of its contribution to helping close the digital divide for students impacted by poverty, with 142 being donated so far this year. 

“The rising cost of living continues to add to the financial strain for families, and we know that The Smith Family and Officeworks both play critical roles in supporting students to have what they need to start and continue their education affordably,” she said.

“This year more families than ever needed a helping hand, and together with The Smith Family, we can continue to make a real impact in students' lives, helping to close the literacy, numeracy and social connection divide for so many young people in Australia.”

Exceeding expectations

Hunter said Officeworks’ partnerships with The Smith Family and the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation form part of the retailer’s People and Planet Positive commitment to support 30,000 students by 2025.

Having already supported more than 40,000 students since 2020, and more than 16,000 Australian students in FY23 alone, Officeworks revised this goal to support 60,000 students by 2025. 

“We are constantly adjusting our initiatives and programs to best support educational outcomes and wellbeing as the landscape and students’ needs continue to change,” she said.

“We review our major initiatives and targets for our People and Planet Positive Plan every five years and review our objectives annually to ensure our approach is evolving and setting increasingly higher standards, so that we can most effectively support the community.”

Hunter said that as a leading provider of educational materials, resources and technology, Officeworks is uniquely placed to support Australian children to access vital literacy programs and the tools they need to learn alongside its partners, The Smith Family and ALNF. 

A strong alignment of goals and values

The Smith Family CEO Doug Taylor said the partnership between The Smith Family and Officeworks is built on alignment around a goal of education equality for children experiencing disadvantage.

“Officeworks’ annual Back to School Appeal helps The Smith Family to reach new audiences who can help support this goal. For Officeworks, it helps them to stand tall as an employer and retail trader, demonstrating their willingness to invest in being part of the solution,” Taylor told The Educator.

“Officeworks’ team members are key to the appeal’s success; they are passionate about the cause and showcasing the impact of The Smith Family’s work.”

Taylor said The Smith Family understands the needs of students and families are continually evolving, and that the charity is always looking for new and better ways to meet these needs.

“Remote learning during the COVID pandemic highlighted just how essential digital access is to all students for a 21st century education. It also shone a light on the digital skills gap between students and families from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more advantaged counterparts,” he said.

Ongoing support for those who need it most

To address the digital divide, The Smith Family launched its Digital Learning Essentials program to ensure by 2027 all children on its Learning for Life program will have access to a device and reliable internet access so they can fully participate in school.

The program not only gives students the tools to fully participate in their education, but provides ongoing technical support and ensures parents and carer givers are skilled and confident in being able to support their children in the world of digital learning.

“This rise in remote learning during COVID also prompted The Smith Family to trial a program of one-on-one tutoring to help those who fell behind catch up with their peers,” he said.

“The pilot showed promising evidence of the program’s capacity to engage students and make above expected progress in literacy and numeracy.”

Taylor said a strong indicator of the success of the charity’s approach is the high proportion (85%) of Learning for Life students who transition successfully from school to further education, training or employment. 

“Our education support programs are evidence-based and measured to assess key outcomes for the students. Insights derived from our program evaluations are used to improve our programs and as well as contribute to the Australian educational evidence base,” he said.

“The Smith Family tracks the progress of students we support against key longer-term outcomes to understand the effectiveness of our approach. These include tracking for each student their average school attendance rate and their advancement from Year 10 to Year 12.”