Rural and Remote
Education Inquiry Briefing Paper
1. Introduction: 'Resourcing
the Right to Education'
on the Rights of the Child ratified by Australia in 1990 sets out
the right of the child to education. It defines the child as any person
under the age if 18 years. Article 28.1 requires Australia and other member
- Make primary
education compulsory and available and free to all;
- Encourage the
development of different forms of secondary education, including general
and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every
child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free
education and offering financial assistance in case of need;
In order to deliver
these educational rights to children, appropriate resources are required
in rural and remote Australia. Children in isolated parts of Australia
do not have access to the same educational resources afforded to their
metropolitan counterparts. In some isolated communities parents are schooling
their children at home during their primary years and then relocating
them to a larger community for their secondary education. Some small communities
do not have schools and children must travel long distances if they are
to receive school education. Those children who do not have the resources
to travel have no access to school education.
The provision of
education to all Australian children is an important challenge for education
departments. It raises questions of educational equity and access, both
fundamental rights for children. Yet providing education is only part
of the challenge. Education must be more than available; it must be appropriate
and accessible. This becomes a quality issue.
By article 29.1 of
the Convention on the Rights of the Child
parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and
physical abilities to their fullest potential [among other things]
While rural and remote
children may not have the same educational resources as children in metropolitan
areas, they too are entitled to develop their mental, physical and social
capacities so that they may participate fully in Australian society. Ensuring
these rights means providing appropriate resources in all States and Territories.
Across all States
and the Northern Territory one consistent theme has emerged during the
inquiry, namely, that rural and remote schools are difficult to staff.
Isolation, living costs and the lack of resources are disincentives to
teacher recruitment in rural and remote schools (Billiluna school meeting,
WA, 14 May 1999). The quality of the staffing arrangements has a direct
impact on the nature and the quality of the education. Where teaching
staff experience disadvantages such as a lack of adequate housing, lack
of access to medical services and lack of access to professional support
and development, there will be a corresponding impact on the provision
and the delivery of education to Australian children.
The frequently cited
difficulties for educationalists in remote Australia relate to the difficulty
in accessing resources readily available in metropolitan areas. Some of
these resources include access to fresh food, reliable power, reliable
technology and medical services (Billiluna school meeting, WA, 14 May
1999). In addition, the high cost of living is a disincentive for teaching
staff to take positions in rural and remote Australia. The cost of food
and petrol, the need to pay for the freight of many items and the cost
of travel mean that an additional financial burden is carried by teaching
staff in more isolated communities (Weipa community meeting, Qld, 8 July
There are several
disincentives for teaching in the country. Limited opportunities to return
to the city, limited opportunities to participate in cutting edge curriculum
developments that might enhance promotion chances, limited or poor professional
and personal development opportunities, financial costs such as telephone,
power and daily living, higher rates of inexperienced teachers, higher
rates of incompetent managers (Submission 23, Open Access College SA).
have a bearing on both the recruitment and the retention of appropriate
educationalists. Some schools in rural and remote Australia have vacant
staff positions for extended periods of time (Isolated Children's Parents'
Association WA, Perth public hearing, 21 May 1999). Other schools make
do by stretching existing staff across a range of disciplines, regardless
of whether they have appropriate training, experience or qualifications
(Nhulunbuy community meeting, NT, 12 May 1999). While this demonstrates
the real commitment and the flexibility of teaching personnel, it compromises
educational quality and stresses an already stretched staff and educational
Rural and remote
schools have a higher staff turnover rate than metropolitan schools (Tomlinson
1994). Staff retention rates can be an important determinant of the quality
of the education being delivered to rural and remote children. Where there
is a constant turnover of staff there can be no continuity of curriculum
or teaching methodology. In one primary school in north-west NSW there
was an entire turnover of the 29 teaching staff in one year (Moree community
meeting, NSW, 9 September 1999). This has a huge impact on educational
quality and continuity. Yet given some of the difficulties faced by staff
in rural and remote locations, it is unlikely that many will stay beyond
a minimum period.
are lacking in many country areas. Access to medical facilities can be
very limited. My last country appointment was 110km from a hospital and
a doctor, and it took me 3.5 hours before I received medical attention
for an eye injury. My next appointment has a hospital and a doctor flies
in once a week. As I have a young family it is a concern. Both towns have
fresh vegetables delivered once a week. Milk and bread arrive frozen.
The papers arrive the next day. Shopping facilities are very limited and
usually are a monopoly, and entertainment and sporting facilities are
very basic. Sporting events involve extensive travel to neighbouring towns
for competition. What can you offer me to make me want to stay longer?
(cited in Tomlinson 1994, page 59).
Many rural and remote
schools are in need of English as a Second Language (ESL) staff, maths
and science teachers and Information Technology (IT) staff. English as
a Second Language (ESL) qualifications are in high demand in schools with
large Aboriginal populations. Unless these teaching staff are offered
incentives to take rural and remote positions, they will remain in high
demand. Currently, there are a number of schools in the Northern Territory
where there are no qualified ESL teachers, yet they are teaching children
for whom English is not the first language (Robert Laird, Australian Education
Union (NT), Darwin public hearing, 10 May 1999). Some rural and remote
schools have difficulty attracting maths, science and IT teachers. Since
these positions are in demand in metropolitan schools they can remain
unfilled in non-metropolitan schools.
Incentives and subsidies
can offset some of the disadvantages experienced by teaching staff in
rural and remote locations.
providers have gone some way in their acknowledgment of the particular
needs and costs of rural and remote school teachers. All States and Territories
provide varying degrees of teacher allowances, incentives and career enhancement
pathways, though there is currently no consistency across Australia in
these provisions. Rural and remote teaching staff suggest that the existing
strategies only partially mitigate the conditions under which they operate
(Weipa community meeting, Qld, 8 July 1999).
updated 2 December 2001.