More students finish year 12 in Wagga than nearby towns and cities, according to official data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Census data showed 43.7 per cent of residents in the Wagga local government area had completed high school, ahead of Albury with 41.2 per cent and Griffith with just 34.2 per cent.
However, there was a sharp drop in completion rates for the region’s smaller towns with 33.6 per cent finishing year 12 in the Greater Hume Shire, 30.6 per cent in Lockhart Shire and 29.1 per cent in Coolamon Shire. Junee Shire lagged behind the pack with just 25.9 per cent of residents having a year 12 education.
Jenny Martin from the Learning Tree Wagga said a good education was incredibly important for childrens’ success.
“Education is the key to the future, I think, it allows students to access anything and everything they’d like to be,” Ms Martin said. “If we can get kids through school it sets them up with the skills and drive and self-worth to achieve whatever they desire, whether that be a trade or continuing on to tertiary education or even heading back to the family farm.”
School completion rates for the region improved slightly since the 2011 census, but Riverina communities still lagged behind the national rate of 51.9 per cent and greater Sydney’s rate of 60 per cent.
However, simply finishing year 12 wasn’t the only way to guarantee success into the future.
Junee Shire Council general manager James Davis left school in Year 10 to become a bricklayer, completing an apprenticeship and eventually starting his own business.
“In the late 70’s it wasn’t as common to go to uni, so there I was making a reasonable living employing five or six people while some of my friends were still at university,” Mr Davis said. “But I realised my education wasn’t enough to support my business so I did a number of courses at TAFE and then a clerk of works course – all after hours. In my mid-30’s I did a masters degree in town planning by distance education and other courses in financial management, now I’m in a senior executive role and proud to call the Riverina home.”
While Mr Davis was proof that schooling wasn’t everything, Ms Martin said the skills learned in years 11 and 12 were invaluable.
“Having to learn self-discipline in a sometimes distracting environment, it make you grow up,” she said.