Jane’s experience as a new teacher in a rural/remote community raises a number of complex issues that may be better understood within the context of the history and philosophy of education.
There is a notable gap between the educational outcomes in rural/remote communities and those in urban centres, evidenced by regional differences in completion and retention rates as well as participation in tertiary education (HREOC, 2000). Challenges remain to providing the kind of basic education to young people in these communities that would fulfil Australia’s basic obligations under human rights treaties and Australian law (HREOC, 2000). Rural/remote schools often lack sufficient resources in terms of quality teachers and educational infrastructure and the relatively low number of schools over expansive areas of the Australian outback create accessibility issues for many students. These issues are amplified further in very remote indigenous communities, where the classroom instruction is rarely in the native language of the students and the curriculum is often not accepted as relevant and/or culturally appropriate (HREOC, 2000).
In addition, historical injustices in the treatment of indigenous communities are a significant issue in remote Australia. It is important for educators to be mindful of this and to remember the significant role that education had, both directly and indirectly in instituting the policies of the government which attempted to “eliminate the half-caste population through a process of biological assimilation.” (Austin, 2000, p. 61) Some of the hostility towards the school from the community mentioned in the scenario may derive in part from the legacy of Australian settler-colonialism.
Another contextual element for Jane to acknowledge in this situation is that the priorities and values she grew up with are probably very different to those of the community in which she now works. A constructivist viewpoint (more specifically, the idea of “anchored instruction” (Duffy, 1996)) argues that learning is “anchored” in a community context. Jane is from a privileged background with well-educated professional parents. She had access to good quality education and her parents most likely saw social and economic value in her academic pursuits, expecting her to attend university and enter a profession. It is important to recognize that her students may not attach the same importance to some aspects of the education that she is helping to provide. In a rural/remote setting the connections between a high quality education and economic success and better employment opportunities may not be as apparent to students and their families. Subjects of more obvious and immediate relevance within these communities (e.g. vocational courses) are often unavailable or delivered in a culturally inappropriate manner (HREOC, 2000).
Jane is in a complex and difficult situation where, as a talented new teacher in a remote community, she aspires to be an integral part of the solution to closing the gap in educational outcomes for her rural/remote community, but may find herself perceived as a symbol for current and historical injustices in the provision of education for these communities – in that she is a representative for the school, and comes to the community as an outsider from a privileged urban background. While Jane has little control over the availability of educational resources in terms of infrastructure and funding, she can play a role in the creation of a more relevant educational experience for the young people in her community. As a first step in improving this situation, she could attempt to find ways to participate in the local community in meaningful ways. Following this, she could work to develop a dialogue with the community and encourage its involvement in and support of the school. McConaghy (2002) argues that the involving the wider community is fundamental to developing positive rural school/community relationships and hence to bettering educational outcomes in these settings.
Austin, T., 2000, “Genocide and schooling in Capricornia: Educating the stolen generation,” History of Education Review, 29 (2), pp. 47-66
Churchill, R. … [et al.], 2011, Teaching: Making a Difference, John Wiley and Sons, Milton
Duffy, T. and Cunningham, D., 1996, “Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction,” Handbook of research for educational communications and technology, 171 (4), pp. 170-198
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2000, Emerging Themes: National Inquiry into Rural & Remote Education, www.hreoc.gov.au/pdf/human_rights/emerging_themes.pdf — accessed 11 Feb 2011
McConaghy, C., 2002, Situated pedagogies. Researching quality teaching and learning for rural NSW schools. Occasional Paper, UNE and NSW Department of Education and Training, Armidale