Rural and Remote
Education Inquiry Briefing Paper
10. Professional development
Lack of access to
professional development is an important concern for rural and remote
teaching staff. Professional development can lead to career enhancement
and in some States it is linked to promotional opportunities. In Western
Australia for example, lack of access to professional development leads
to promotional disadvantage where merit based selection is the criterion
for promotion (Butorac 1998, page 4).
In addition, professional
development impacts on the pedagogical practice and delivery in the classroom
setting. Teachers need to have current information about their discipline
as well as information about education practice.
In a small schools
teachers may be required to teach across a number disciplines. If they
have some expertise in information technology they may become the school
computer technician. In the absence of health professionals, language
specialists, psychological and developmental specialists, they may find
that they become the substitute. Small schools demand flexibility.
In spite of a heightened
case for professional development in rural and remote schools, the barriers
of distance, insufficient funding and the lack of relief staff mean that
rural and remote teachers have less access to professional development
than their metropolitan counterparts.
A number of contributing
factors limit access to professional development.
rural teacher geographical isolation may prohibit regular participation
in relevant professional development. Costs are substantially greater
than in the urban situation. Travel costs, and the resultant time away
from school, place undue pressure on the school finances and the school
program. The availability of relief staff may be limited. Time away from
family commitments is a consideration that cannot be ignored. Individually,
and in combination, these factors combine to restrict access to professional
isolation calls for a reassessment of the present provision of professional
development for rural teachers. A differential resourcing formula, applied
to professional development, would provide a necessary degree of equity
in attempting to overcome the limitations imposed by isolation. Existing
technology has the capacity to address some of the professional development
needs of rural teachers. It can provide teachers with access to colleagues
and to required expertise and is likely to be a cost effective alternative
in some settings. In others, it may be the only option (Tomlinson
1994, pages 82-83).
of casual staff in rural and remote areas makes it difficult for teachers
to attend training and development days (Submission 37, National Isolated
Children's Parents' Association).
Development often involves travel costs. We stretch our professional
development budget by asking teachers to cover their own travel costs
(Submission 50, Clifton State High School, Qld).
development suffers immensely. Training and development budgets are
a joke in rural schools. Four thousand dollars a year cannot properly
reimburse staff, pay for their release and pay the course costs if staff
have to regularly travel over 200Km return or further. That does not
include overnight accommodation for two day conferences. Poor staff
professional development means diminished outcomes for students
(Submission 11, Trangie Central School, NSW).
I think in
terms of our schools too we have to invest significantly in staff development.
We have a lot of younger people working in schools who themselves won't
stay as teachers for a long time; so there's a foreshortened professional
development cycle, which creates problems in the schools. No sooner
do you get somebody organised then you've got to do it again.
The other thing
that we've constantly battled with is the lack of being in a collegial
network. You know, you feel very isolated, particularly if you're in
a one-teacher school or a very small school you don't feel like you're
part of a professional body. I think that's where, perhaps, the further
use of these sorts of technologies could link teachers together. I think
one of the best models that I saw was what's called the Warlpiri Triangle.
There are schools in the Warlpiri-speaking area that have, virtually
on their own bat, banded together to do development of bilingual teaching
approaches to different areas of the curriculum, not only the teaching
of language itself. For example, there's been a whole series of workshops
done on the teaching of maths within a bilingual framework; for example,
how to use the Warlpiri language and Warlpiri worldview as an adjunct
to the teaching of mathematics and in fact what areas of mathematics
aren't open to Warlpiri concepts. The use of language can often be very
misleading to students, as well as being helpful, unless you actually
map out where it's helpful and where it's actually going to impede the
development of maths concepts.
I think the
Warlpiri Triangle has done a lot of useful work in curriculum and development
but, more importantly, it's established a sort of a regional entity
for the teachers so that they feel like they're not battling it out
day after day in the classrooms, with no-one else sharing their situation.
I think that would probably stabilise the employment out bush (Bill
Griffiths, Director of Catholic Education (NT), Darwin public hearing,
10 May 1999).
[There is a
need for] greater funding to support professional development of Indigenous
educators, in particular, independent community-controlled educational
settings, to upgrade their skills as educators and be recognised as
equal (Submission 52, Yipirinya School, NT).
of the transfer (guarantee) situation and the introduction of merit
selection that has occurred in some States has created a situation whereby
rural and remote children are being disadvantaged. The education of
these children is being sacrificed as teachers can no longer feel confident
about promotional positions and being able to return to metropolitan
teaching positions after serving time in rural and remote areas, sometimes
in extreme isolation. However, often the experience gained in an isolated
area produces a more adaptable, confident teacher who has had to deal
with situations without the benefit of peer or other forms of professional
support. Recognition of these particular skills obtained in isolated
areas should be seen as an advantage (Submission 37, National Isolated
Children's Parents' Association).
updated 2 December 2001.