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Better funded teacher education for our rural schools.

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Wednesday 17 August 2005

John Halsey, senior lecturer, School of Education, Flinders University


Better Funded Teacher Education for our Rural Schools  


Ensuring that Australia’s rural schools are staffed by well qualified teachers has always been problematic.  


Successive governments at state and federal levels, virtually since the introduction of free, secular and compulsory education in the mid nineteenth century, have had to use a variety of strategies and inducements for appointing teachers to schools in country locations in addition to those used to staff city schools. 


These have included extra salary matched to different location categories, accelerated promotion, subsidized accommodation, and permanency. In times of acute shortages of teachers for rural schools, even reducing the qualifications required to be a teacher has also been used to fill vacancies! 


None of this history is being recounted to deny the dedication of the many thousands of country teachers who have made-and continue to make- an enormous contribution to the lives of individuals and communities.  


Rather, it dramatically underscores the point that for country schools to function “like any other school”, education authorities have had to take, and continue to take, special measures to deliver what Education legislation promises. 


Today, attracting and retaining dedicated, quality teachers- and indeed a wide range of other professional and skilled people- to rural and remote areas is a growing area of public policy pressure on governments as well as education administrators. 


There are many reasons why this is the situation. They include changing views about lifelong careers, the aging teacher workforce and the dramatic demographic and economic changes taking place in many areas of rural Australia. 


As every primary producer knows, the end product is strongly influenced by the quality of the input at the start of a production cycle. So it is with education! 


It is time for a fresh focus on rural education! 


And what should this re-focusing of effort look like? 


For the preparation of teachers for rural and remote schools, a much more concerted effort during the initial education of a teacher is urgently needed. 


And for the Rural Education Forum Australia, at the very least, policies, programs and resources, to the point of positive discrimination, which ensure every person studying to be a teacher is able to discover the great things about being a teacher in the country, before they graduate.  


Many listeners may be interested to know that annually, over a million days of what is often called “teaching prac”, are organised by universities in Australia. This is a major logistical exercise as well as being a huge additional resource for children, schools and communities.  


Recently the Rural Education Forum Australia conducted national research inviting all the Schools and Faculties of Teacher Education in Australia to describe what is currently happening with teacher preparation for rural and remote areas, and to flag issues that need to be addressed. 


The results of the research are very clear.  


The research shows that, to make a real difference to the way teachers are prepared during their degree and diploma courses for country locations, new and better ways of dealing with the costs of an extended country placement have to be found. 


There are two broad groups of costs that require very urgent attention. 


The first group of costs is generated by the universities and those providing practice teaching places in schools. In both instances, there is funding made available by governments, and through student contributions, but it is clearly insufficient to meet all of the needs. It may also be the case, in some teacher education programs, funding intended to support teaching practicums is not getting to where it is needed! 


The second group of costs is generated by the students themselves. These include the costs associated with the practical aspects of a country pre-service placement like accommodation, travel, foregone income from part-time/full-time work( the majority of tertiary students rely on income from paid work to make ends meet), extra rent at home base, or special needs as a carer. 


The future for rural students, families and communities is very directly related to the quality of education available to them. And good teachers, appropriately educated and prepared, are the cornerstone of translating this ideal into reality.  


The Rural Education Forum Australia believes it is now time to develop new policies and funding strategies for teacher education programs that encourage and support all those studying to be teachers, to try country teaching and living before they graduate.  


Guests on this program:

John Halsey  

Executive Officer  

Rural Education Forum Australia  


Senior Lecturer,  

School of Education,  

Flinders University.