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Scrapping HECS debt for remote teachers welcomed

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Experts have endorsed the announcement that the government will cancel the uni debts of teachers who commit to working for four years in remote indigenous communities and say more must be done to attract locals into the teaching profession.

Assoc Prof Philip Roberts is an expert in rural and remote education at the University of Canberra. He welcomed the announcement to wipe the HECS debt of new teachers who spend four years in very remote communities as a "positive first step in addressing the intergenerational disadvantage faced by remote communities."

"The attraction and retention of teachers in Rural Regional and Remote communities has been a problem since the advent of compulsory education," he said.

Roberts cautions that "attention also needs to be given to the conditions teachers experience, as resourcing, access to professional development, quality housing, and limited support staff are amongst the most cited reasons teachers leave these settings". 

Further, Roberts highlighted the importance of attracting teachers into the profession from rural and remote areas.  "All major studies show that teachers from rural regional and remote areas often return to, and remain, in these communities," he said.

"Perhaps more importantly, they also understand the students' backgrounds and can better connect their teaching to those students' needs and pre-existing understandings". This counters the sense of being "out of place" that many metropolitan raised teachers experience when moving to rural areas – something which they report makes them feel disconnected from communities and encourages them to leave.

Dr John Guenther of the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education agreed, while highlighting that the need for local instructors who understood local needs was "amplified" when it came to remote Indigenous education.

In this context, he said, "the importance of having Aboriginal staff, Aboriginal teacher assistants and Aboriginal teachers, particularly local ones, becomes really, really important for the outcomes of students."


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