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Tailored programs work in the bush

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The bush and what happens in education there is often an afterthought but it is a complex and varied space which requires well thought out strategies to contend with the disadvantage and disconnect that students in the country can experience.

Tailored programs specific to local requirements work well to encourage engagement in schools and student progression to tertiary education.

The report of the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education, instituted by the Australian Government and led by Emeritus Professor John Halsey confirms that educational opportunity gaps can be area-specific.

“Our own research among Heads of day and/or boarding schools in regional and remote areas, and Heads who lead boarding schools in major cities, affirms that government programs aimed at bridging opportunity gaps must be flexible enough to allow for community and school differences to be accommodated,” said The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) CEO Beth Blackwood.

The most commonly reported problems are difficulty in recruiting teachers, followed by depressed local economic conditions.

“Local economic conditions significantly affect the post-school employment and training options of students, which in turn affects students’ aspirations, their engagement with school and therefore their academic achievement,” said  Blackwood.

Independent schools in regional, rural and remote areas were addressing this cycle of disadvantage by expanding or augmenting subject offerings through online courses, video conferencing or by partnering with other schools.

Schools have been fighting back by interacting with the local community by linking the curriculum with localised projects or tailoring service learning projects to local needs and personalised student learning plans, accessing mentors from the community or alumni, introducing a ‘stage not age’ approach to student choice of electives and senior secondary subjects, and establishing homework ‘boot camps’ and homework clubs.

Linking with regional universities, and visits to university open days, student exchanges with city-based or overseas schools, provision of VET courses allied to local industry and specialist VET placements are other ways students can be encouraged into further education.

Blackwood said it was pleasing that a major recommendation of the Halsey review was to improve the availability, accessibility and affordability of information and communications technologies for schools, teachers, students, parents and communities in regional, rural and remote areas.

“Heads of boarding schools in cities and in regional and remote areas report that Skype is commonly used to keep students and families connected. Some schools also help prospective students overcome initial gaps in learning by including them in online classes the year before they begin boarding.”

“Whether students from regional, rural and remote areas are educated at home or in boarding schools, any government policies or programs aiming to broaden their educational opportunities must take into account that schools and their students reflect the broader social and economic conditions of their local communities,” said  Blackwood.

“While schools may share common challenges, these challenges are best addressed in ways that are suited to the school community if government programs are to be most effective in bridging the opportunity gaps for students in regional, rural and remote areas.”

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