According to the United Nations charter – of which Australia is a signatory – education “is a fundamental human right” and essential for the exercise of all other human rights.
So, it begs the question: if education is a right, then why are parents forced to pay for compulsory school supplies?
In a recent Facebook post, one parent lamented the cost of compulsory items, such as uniforms and footwear, saying: “I understand that teachers are in no way on a flamboyant wage, but this is something the government should be coughing up in order for our children to receive the education they’re entitled to”.
The Queensland mother, Cindy Bogan, who has four sons aged 18 months, five, 12 and 14, said the cost of the supplies did not include the $300 she would be spending on compulsory uniforms, $150 on footwear and $150 on backpacks.
She added that she would also be paying $440 in fees because the Government’s School Kids Bonus Scheme – which provided eligible parents up to $856 a year for each of their school-age children – was axed last year.
Dr Lisa O’Brien, The Smith Family’s CEO, said that on the cusp of the new school year, the organisation is experiencing an influx of calls as parents grapple with the reality of having to send their children to school without the most basic educational resources.
“The truth is the costs of a child’s educational essentials are out of reach for many disadvantaged families. When a child doesn’t have even the basics they need for school they can feel different and isolated,” Dr O’Brien told The Educator.
“The consequences can be serious – becoming disengaged over time and at risk of dropping out of school early or altogether. This is a real concern because we know that education is a pathway out of poverty.”
Dr O’Brien added that as the school year begins, The Smith Family is working hard to prevent disadvantaged children from “the lifelong effects of hardship”.
“The best thing we can do is to support them to succeed at school and complete their education,” she said.
Meadowglen Primary School principal, Loretta Piazza, told The Educator that school fees and book lists are “a seriously contentious issue” for government schools.
“High SES schools need to charge more because they get less government funding. Low SES schools like Meadowglen receive considerable 'equity' funding so we can provide some financial support to our families,” she said.
“At the start of each year, we give a pack of 'essential' book items to all families with a health care card, and others as well who may be in need. We deliberately keep things simple and have not gone down the path of expecting parents to pay for iPads or laptops. We don't have fancy dance classes or a lush green sports oval.”
Piazza added that schools wanting these things either pay for them from school funds or, alternatively, make parents pay.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Should parents pay for compulsory school items?