Rural and remote education is in “crisis” with under-resourcing and few specific initiatives to support actual change, according to a group calling for action.
Central Victoria is not immune, with Country Education Partnership chief executive Phil Brown saying some communities are struggling to attract staff and run a wide enough curriculum.
But as the Victorian election looms Mr Brown argued talk about change is cheap, pointing out the crisis has been recognised in reports harking all the way back to 1993.
He said that without political parties and the education sector committing to “significant change” students from the bush will continue to fall behind urban counterparts.
In their first year of formal full-time schooling regional and rural children are more likely to be developmentally vulnerable than those in urban areas, according to the Australian early development index.
In smaller central Victorian communities like Maryborough and Charlton numbers of young people are not what they used to be, Mr Brown said.
“That decline is putting pressure on schools and therefore they are not able to offer the range of topics and curriculum areas that they would like to,” he said.
“You go to Birchip and it is one of the best performing schools in the state, but they struggle to provide all the educational programs.”
Recruiting and keeping good quality staff in smaller central Victorian communities was becoming more difficult, Mr Brown said, especially in areas like science, technology, languages and creative arts.
It could also be difficult to attract principals.
“And the final area of concern is youth aspiration in those rural communities,” Mr Brown said.
The CEP said there were often lower aspirations and expectations of young people in regional, rural and remote areas.
Mr Brown wants a rural education blueprint to be adopted and his organisation has this week put out a list of 19 proposed initiatives.
The suggestions were geared towards encouraging governments and relevant authorities to work together on critical issues in country schools, CEP chairman Mike Stephens said.
“There are systematic issues affecting rural and remote education from start to finish – from toddlers in pre-school to our young adults transitioning to tertiary studies and the workforce,” he said.
Mr Brown said part of the solution would be to encourage a mindset in which schools worked together to share staff and programs.
“That can help provide an as-broad-as-possible educational program for the kids who come to their schools,” Mr Brown said.
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