Scholarship removes barrier for Masters student researching the pandemic’s effect on Australia’s education gap

Jacklyn Lee has been awarded the inaugural Samuel and June Hordern Scholarship in Rural and Regional Economics for 2023.

Lee joins fellow students Diego Machillanda Flechas and Gavin Williams as the first cohort of University of Melbourne students to win the award generously donated by the descendants of the late Samuel and June Hordern, noted pastoralists.

The scholarship is open to students whose research is informed by rural and regional economics and who have been accepted into either the Honours in Economics or the Master of Economics programs.

Jacklyn Lee (supplied)

Currently in the final stretch of her Masters, Lee’s research topic explores how the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns further exacerbated Australia’s existing gap in educational attainment between rural and regional students and those in metropolitan areas.

She was inspired by her professional experience working as an economist for the Victorian Treasury providing policy advice and consulting on the potential investment opportunities in regional Victoria during a three-week international placement.

Also working as a private tutor, she saw first-hand the impact of school closures during the pandemic on students’ learning, particularly those from a lower socioeconomic status.

“These experiences have led to my interest and passion for supporting disadvantaged students.

“Regional disadvantage, particularly education and intergenerational inequity, has always been an area of interest to me.”

For her research, Lee is using a triple difference-in-difference to estimate the casual impact of school closures on the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) scores of lower socioeconomic students compared to their higher socioeconomic peers, as well as investigating the widening of the urban-rural gap.

But her ability to investigate the regional aspect of the lockdowns was hampered as the NAPLAN data did not provide a breakdown of school location at a granular level.

“Due to the scholarship, I was able to purchase a customised dataset from ACARA which included school postcodes at an individual level.”

The scholarship has also motivated her to continue working on her paper, Impacts of COVID-19 School Closures on Australia’s Education Gap, after it is submitted at the end of 2023 and dive into other channels relating to regional and rural Australia that are currently out of scope for her master's thesis.

This would include tying NAPLAN data to the National Broadband Network rollout and internet connection within Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2), data on teaching shortages, and private and public funding for schools.

“This scholarship has supported my analysis, which I hope will be a part of research that informs the next generation of policies to increase equity of opportunity in education in Australia.”