The education barrier: rural and urban students

A new study from the University of Auckland finds urban students outperform rural counterparts by up to 15 percent.

A new study has found that NCEA attainment is lower in rural schools than urban ones. The study comes from the University of Auckland and was headed by Kyle Eggleton, the associate dean in medical and health sciences. 

The study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, used publicly available NCEA data to compare achievement between rural and urban schools. It found that both NCEA Level 3 and UE attainment was lower for rural schools than urban schools. Regional schools were also found to have lower attainment than urban schools, but higher than rural schools.  

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New Zealand’s data is consistent with overseas reports, where rural schools are similarly found to have lower attainment than urban schools. The study also found an inverse relationship between proportion of Māori students and achievement levels, which underlines the well-established disparities in our education system.  

Other characteristics of rural schools are that they are more likely to be in low-income areas and be poorly resourced in comparison to urban schools.  

One limitation of the study included the use of school-level aggregate data, meaning that the study might not reflect an individual’s experience. But the results do show systemic change is needed.  

Eggleton said that the results likely reflected the better resourcing of urban schools, which tended to have larger rolls than their rural counterparts.  

Andrew King, spokesperson for NZ Rurual Schools Association said the research was “unsurprsing”, and agreed that “a lot of that comes down to resourcing and equity of resourcing”. 

But some rural educators note that NCEA attainment and UE are not the only measures of success. Hurunui College Principal Stephen Beck, who was previously the president of NZ Area Schools’ Association, said that rural schools with smaller rolls generally focused on more individualised learning.  

“In the area school setting, the individual approach to education is more important than the data,” said Beck.  

He noted that there were many factors that may have contributed to the research finding, including rural students choosing to attend boarding school, and some schools having a stronger focus on vocational pathways.

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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