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Rural and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

Rural and Remote

Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

1. Introduction: 'Resourcing

the Right to Education'

The Convention

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

countries to

  1. Make primary

    education compulsory and available and free to all;

  2. 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).

These difficulties

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).


in staffing

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.


and incentives

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.