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Rural and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

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.

Research indicates


For the

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).


to the Inquiry

The lack

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).

Staff professional

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).

The abolition

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.