It’s a formula everyone understands. Good teachers and adequate resources are the basis of a decent education.
High school, what comes to mind for you? Think of an old yellow brick building, uncomfortable chairs, and tables that have decades of graffiti on them. Add outdated textbooks and missing pages and you have a rural high school, unchanged since opening in 1971. This is Wade High School, Griffith.
‘There are not enough text books to go around, you need to share.’
That message sounded like a broken record at my school, especially in maths, geography, and science. Almost as common was the lack of teachers. There were times when there were staffing issues and teachers were required to step outside their qualified fields. These issues are not just isolated to my high school, but are common in rural and remote schools across New South Wales.
This is all set to change with the Governments Rural and Remote Education Blueprint for Action. In 2013, the Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, announced $80 million was to be spent over four years improving student learning in rural and remote public schools across the State.
Minister Piccoli says, ‘As a regional MP, I know the importance of attracting high quality teachers to regional areas. Teaching is the most important in-school factor affecting a student’s performance, and the impact of a great teacher can put a student ahead by as much as two years.’
There have been concerns about the quality of education in rural and remote areas for years. In 2005, Professor Phillip Roberts from the University of Canberra conducted a report into some key issues that rural schools face. The Staffing and Empty Schoolhouse report confirmed: ‘Australia’s remote, rural and regional schools are frequently staffed with young, inexperienced teachers, and teacher turnover is high.’
Wade High teacher Amanda Bastianon says the current issue with staff is ‘a huge problem’.
‘We all have to take extra periods to cover teachers that are away because we can’t get casual teachers.’
With a budget of $30 million, the blueprint plans to address staffing problems like this, and the Government hopes to provide new incentives to attract and retain quality teachers in regional and remote areas.
‘The Rural and Remote Blueprint is an excellent start in redressing the equity imbalance that is evident between urban schools and those in rural and remote areas. We should be able to address staffing deficiencies by hiring more casual and relief teachers. We should also be able to engage in significant professional learning to improve teaching and learning’ says Wade High’s principal, Kenneth Chalmers.
A former Wade High student, Megan Hardy, 21, says, ‘I didn’t feel disadvantaged when I was at school, if a teacher was teaching outside their field it meant less work for us. I did not realise at the time my education was being impaired. At the time, I took the careless and disinterested approach as a blessing. This needs to be addressed and schools need to be staffed.’
Megan recalls her year 10 science teacher, Miss B: ‘She was not a science teacher but she took our class for the entire year. There was hardly any learning; it was a case of the blind leading the blind. Miss B had no passion or interest in science, and all we had to learn from was the old war-torn textbooks with ripped pages.’
The issue of teachers teaching outside their individual fields poses a threat to students’ education. This is even more concerning when comparing the results from students in rural and remote areas, to that of students in metropolitan and urban areas. A national inquiry conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission showed that on average the school performance of country students lags somewhat behind that of urban students.
So what’s the solution?
Mr Piccoli explains, ‘Our schools do fantastic work, but we need to support them to improve these results, because Australia will not be able to compete internationally if we leave our rural students behind.’
Education is a fundamental right of every child in Australia but education and a quality education with sufficient teachers and recourses are two very different things. Hopefully with what is set to come over the next four years, Mr Piccoli can give every child access to a quality education. – Rebecca Hopper
Photo from Max Klingensmith’s Flickr photostream.