Rural Education Forum Australia Drought Policy Review Submission 2services, the impacts of globalisation, climate change, and the harvesting of naturalresources, frequently unsustainably, to feed growth.A particularly alarming aspect of the changes taking place in rural Australia is thedecline in the number of youth who remain in rural communities beyond schoolleaving age.Youth are usually focussed on the future and represent a key nation building asset.Hence it is REFA’s view that policies and programs that encourage and facilitateyouth- as well as others- to opt into the challenges of nation building are essential.This is especially the case during periods of drought where rural communities oftenexperience loss of population, depressed economic activity and are frequently ‘on thereceiving end’ of cuts in vital services like education.
Framing proactive educational policies and programs
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s National Inquiry into Ruraland Remote Education (2000) posited that education must be
available, accessible,affordable, acceptable and adaptable
so that children, youth and others who live andwork in rural and remote contexts “can receive the education [required] to participateto his or her full potential in the social, political and cultural life of the community”(HREOC, 2000, P. 2).In addition, the Australian Academy of Social Sciences has identified 5 capitals inrelation to sustainability. They are
natural, human, social, institutional and produced
(Cocklin & Dibden, 2005). Retaining, and indeed in many instances enhancing thesefundamental assets for building community, needs to remain central to any review of policies in relation to the impact of drought on individuals and their capacities to keepgoing when ‘times are tough’ and it becomes impossible to visualize an end todepressed circumstances.Typically, when approaches to economics are based on competitive market forces todetermine which services can be viably run in communities, rural and remote areas-and therefore the individuals and families who live in them- often miss out.The critical learning that arises out of this is that
when individuals and communitiesare under great pressure is not the time to rationalize and close services to generate savings and so called efficiencies.
Rather the challenge is to be creative in a time of duress and decline by reconceptualising how vital services- like education andtraining- can be retained and even expanded.
Moving to action
The 2020 Summit held earlier this year was charged with generating big ideas to takeAustralia forward. REFA is pleased that rural education and training did ‘make it ontothe radar’ but much remains to be done to move ideas proposed into real action ‘onthe ground’. The Expert Social Panel Drought Policy Review provides an idealopportunity to embrace key ideas from the 2020 Summit that will have, if implemented, a positive impact. They will contribute to reversing what is perceived to be a deficit view of many rural and remote contexts due to the grip of drought and the