University of Tasmania

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Young people’s post-compulsory educational choices in a small rural Tasmanian town

posted on 2023-05-25, 14:16 authored by Merete SchmidtMerete Schmidt
Participation in post-compulsory education has increased substantially since the 1970s (ABS 2011), but gender, socio-economic status and locality continue to influence who remains in education and who leaves (ACARA 2012; Curtis and McMillan 2008). This thesis addresses the issue of the low Year 12 completion rates in rural Australia through an investigation of how young people living in a rural area of Tasmania subjectively construct their postcompulsory educational choices. The study is based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with Grade 10 students, parents and teachers in a small rural town as well as interviews with Australian policy makers with the objective of examining how young people aged 15-16 years make plans for their future careers. Bourdieu’s (1990) concepts of social and cultural capital and the habitus and Connell’s theory of the gender order (2005) are used to analyse participants’ experiences.

Key findings include that place was a critical factor in the construction of a distinctive rural habitus characterised by a strong attachment to and relationship with people and place and particular forms of masculinities and femininities. A combination of traditional working class culture and an emphasis on physicality as embodied performance was linked to the dominance of a form of masculinity in the community which was carried across to the informal school culture in ways that influenced both male and female participants’ decisions about whether to continue at school.

Decisions to leave school early were linked to the possession of tight-knit local networks, limited travel, and predominantly local forms of knowledge. Those who decided to continue their education were more likely to possess globalised forms of social and cultural capital. For many young men their successful performance of a particular form of place based hegemonic masculinity was in tension with the cultural capital of the School and was associated with an intention to leave education as soon as they could. At the same time, many of these respondents believed that in making this choice, they were setting themselves up for failure. Other young men and women felt marginalised in the masculinity hierarchy, and their experiences of oppression and a sense that their academic efforts went unnoticed and unrewarded resulted in a decision to leave school before completion of Year 12.

There were, however, exceptions. Some academically high achieving individuals with global forms of social and cultural capital still decided to leave their education because of experiences of marginalisation. Some of the most stigmatised young people with local forms of social and cultural networks also intended to continue their education despite their experiences of marginalisation within the formal and informal culture of the School.

The policy implications arising from this study include greater attention to gender practices within the School, the provision of a wider range of leisure activities in the local community and encouraging young people to become familiar with environments beyond their local area.





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University of Tasmania

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