Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Demographics of the School-Age Population

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Demographics of the School-Age Population

Article excerpt

An appreciation of contemporary demography and impending shifts within it are needed for the efficient and equitable allocation of the limited resources available for education in Australia. The school-age population of Australia is increasing at substantially lower rates than the population as a whole. The paper examines recent trends in population growth in Australia from the perspective of their effects on the school-age population. Projected trends in population growth and age structure over the next two decades indicate that the school-age population at most will be stable and probably will decline. Shifts in levels of participation in the later years of secondary schooling are also examined. The paper then examines how the composition of the school-age population is changing and notes increasing levels of diversity and inequality. Finally some observations are made on policy influences on the future school-age population of Australia.

Introduction (1)

Shifts in the demand for schools are a function of changes in processes of population growth and spatial redistribution as well as in the rates at which children participate in education. Hence an appreciation of Australia's demography and impending changes in it is critical to equitable and efficient allocation of education resources and planning future provision. The first part of the paper examines recent trends in national population growth and the processes of fertility, mortality and migration which influence that growth. The impact of these processes on Australia's changing age structure is then examined. It is important to appreciate that past fluctuations in demographic processes have caused different age groups in the contemporary population to grow at different rates. Hence in 1998-99 the total population of Australia increased by 1.26 per cent whereas the school-age population (5-18 years) increased by only 0.81 per cent. Australia's population is changing not just with respect to its size but also in its composition and spatial distribution. These mean that not just the numbers of school children are changing, but their characteristics and where they live are also dynamic and create challenges for the education system. Finally shifts in the school-age population over the next two decades may be influenced by government policy.

This paper is written from a demographic perspective and aims to provide some demographic insights into the nation's future school-age population. Demography is the analysis, description and explanation of changes in the size, characteristics and spatial distribution of human populations. In educational planning, this analysis can be useful because it points to contemporary and impending changes in the numbers of potential students, their characteristics and where they live. This, of course, is one of several elements that need to be incorporated in planning the scale of educational resources needed, what type of resources are needed and where they are needed. Demographic analysis can also be applied not just in establishing the demand side of educational planning but, through examining the demography of the teaching workforce, it can assist in establishing future requirements for teacher numbers. The present paper attempts to overview the main demographic shifts which are occurring and which will impinge on the future school-age population.

Population trends in Australia

It is important at the outset to dispel the myth that Australia's population is static or declining. The population is currently growing at 1.2 per cent per annum (1999), only slightly below the average for the world as a whole (1.3 per cent) and above the levels of most comparable OECD countries. Australia's current level of population growth is certainly lower than occurred for much of the quarter century after World War II as Figure 1 shows, but it is continuing to grow significantly. Moreover it will continue to grow over the next few decades even in the extremely unlikely event that net gains from international migration will fall dramatically or approach zero. …

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