Submission from The Rural Education Forum Australia

Submission Number: 206 Public Submission received by Email to Drought Policy Review 14/08/08:

Submission to the Expert Social Panel Drought Policy Review Rural Education Forum Australia August 2008

Introduction The Rural Education Forum Australia welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Expert Social Panel Drought Policy Review. REFA was formed in 2002 in response to the HREOC Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education initiated in February 1999. REFA is a collective of national organisations which represent the consumers and/or providers of education services in rural and remote Australia- see Appendix 1 for details. REFA’s vision is quality education and training outcomes in rural and remote areas, so that individuals, families and communities can develop their full potential in the social, economic, political and cultural life of the nation. REFA’s work recognises the importance and value of people in rural and remote areas being able to realise their full potential in their environment, and the fundamental importance of education in enabling them to do this. REFA’s work is based on principles of social justice, equity and improved access to the range of goods, services and entitlements that impact on education or on services related to education and educational outcomes. Position Statement Vibrant and productive rural communities are integral to the long term sustainability of Australia. History as well as research (see Diamond 2005) tell us that countries which fail to nurture things which are fundamental to sustainability, like the capacity to produce sufficient food for the population, make themselves vulnerable in times of pressure as is currently the case with the prolonged drought conditions. It is widely acknowledged that rural communities in Australia (Hugo 2000, McSwan 2003, Salt 2005) are experiencing fundamental changes socially, politically, environmentally and economically through loss of population, loss or consolidation of Rural Education Forum Australia Drought Policy Review Submission 1

services, the impacts of globalisation, climate change, and the harvesting of natural resources, frequently unsustainably, to feed growth. A particularly alarming aspect of the changes taking place in rural Australia is the decline in the number of youth who remain in rural communities beyond school leaving 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 facilitate youth- 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 often experience loss of population, depressed economic activity and are frequently ‘on the receiving 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 Rural and Remote Education (2000) posited that education must be available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and adaptable so that children, youth and others who live and work in rural and remote contexts “can receive the education [required] to participate to 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 in relation to sustainability. They are natural, human, social, institutional and produced (Cocklin & Dibden, 2005). Retaining, and indeed in many instances enhancing these fundamental 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 keep going when ‘times are tough’ and it becomes impossible to visualize an end to depressed circumstances. Typically, when approaches to economics are based on competitive market forces to determine which services can be viably run in communities, rural and remote areasand 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 communities are 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 and training- can be retained and even expanded. Moving to action The 2020 Summit held earlier this year was charged with generating big ideas to take Australia forward. REFA is pleased that rural education and training did ‘make it onto the radar’ but much remains to be done to move ideas proposed into real action ‘on the ground’. The Expert Social Panel Drought Policy Review provides an ideal opportunity 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

Rural Education Forum Australia Drought Policy Review Submission


continued growth of city and big population centre voices in articulating futures for Australia. The 2020 Rural Access and Equity Big Idea Paper comprises 11 strategies to progress improvements. Ten of them are quoted below that REFA endorses and strongly believes if implemented, would make a significant contribution towards ensuring that individuals, families and communities in rural and remote Australia currently living with the impact of prolonged drought, could play a vital role in the sustainability of the nation. Perhaps more importantly from the perspective of the individual and basic human rights, is ensuring that policy settings and subsequent funding, facilitate the development of education and training services that enable people to pursue their potential. The 10 strategies endorsed by REFA are: 1. National Rural Education Strategy: A national rural education strategy will provide a collaborative policy framework that embraces early childhood through to adult learning for all remote, rural and regional Australians. It will ensure that no rural Australian is left behind, including those from remote communities, remote properties and those with disabilities. The strategy will integrate research such as that recently completed by the National Centre of Science, Information and Communication Technology, and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMMER), and build upon the MCEETYA framework for rural and remote education. 2. Flexible and online learning opportunities: Many rural students cannot access educational courses because they are not available (for example, many rural students are disadvantaged through lack of language courses). For increased rural education opportunities, funding and support is required to develop and expand primary, secondary, TAFE and higher education online courses. This strategy will also encourage rural young people to remain in rural communities to complete their education. 3. Satellite Education Centres with high tech, high speed communications: The current shortage of teachers impact highest on remote, rural and regional education. Sending students to cities and regional centres for quality education can disrupt families, deplete communities of whole generations and add unnecessary financial burden (however, it must be acknowledged that relocation is, and will continue to be, necessary for some students to reach their potential and aspirations). This strategy proposes ‘state of the art’ education centres as the hub of towns, with the highest quality teachers zoomed in online. Communities will be empowered and enabled to seize opportunities. In these centres, teaching would be interactive, innovative, exciting and of the highest quality, while also maintaining the presence of face-to-face teaching. These centres will also encourage those from a metropolitan background to relocate to rural and regional Australia for their studies. Rural Clinical Schools for medicine students in rural and remote communities are an example of successful satellite learning, and could be expanded to include other disciplines within the existing infrastructure. This strategy will also provide additional opportunities within Australia’s educational export trade.

Rural Education Forum Australia Drought Policy Review Submission


4. Non-means tested Youth Allowance and Tertiary Access Allowance for all rural tertiary students: Many remote, rural and regional young people must relocate to an urban or regional centre for tertiary education, and encounter considerable costs (a recent study estimated expenses of $15,000-$20,000 per year, plus up to $6000 for start-up costs). The current eligibility criteria for Youth Allowance marginalizes rural Australians, is a financial barrier to tertiary education for rural young people, and results in loss of services when whole families move to urban centres to access education. This strategy removes that financial barrier. All rural young people will be eligible for Youth Allowance if they need to leave home for tertiary education. Rural students will also be eligible for a non-means tested Tertiary Access Allowance for their start-up and relocation costs. Tertiary education will then be seen as a viable option for all rural young people, and families can remain in rural communities while their children study away from home. 5. Commonwealth Scholarships for TAFE and other post-secondary students: Currently, Commonwealth Scholarships are only provided for higher education students. However, rural young people who leave home for TAFE and other post-secondary courses encounter the same costs (TAFE students must also pay up-front fees). Extending Commonwealth Scholarships for vocation post-secondary students will ensure they can equitably access financial support. 6. Mentoring a Rural Renaissance: A national mentoring program will bridge urban and rural Australia. Rural young people will be linked to rural and/or urban mentors to learn life skills such as entrepreneurship and community development, emotional intelligence and environmental stewardship. Rural tertiary students and trainees will have a rural and/or urban mentor to guide career pathways. Rural professionals and businesspeople will have urban mentors to share information and ideas, and for professional development (this program will include rural teachers). The strategy will also include a school buddy system that connects rural and urban schools, including opportunities for rural student exchange. The initiative will reconnect r u r a l and urban Australia, promote rural communities, and empower rural young people to develop relationships with their peers outside their immediate community. 7. Funded rural work experience programs: This strategy was developed within the ‘Strengthening Rural Skills’ proposal at the 2020 Youth Summit. Rural student placements are expensive and therefore inaccessible for many students. This strategy will involve funded work experience and placements for secondary and tertiary students to have on-the-job training in rural communities. Both urban and rural students will be financially supported to access extensive rural placements, and will have the opportunity to understand their career in a rural context. This strategy also encourages tertiary education courses to include compulsory rural placements. This strategy aims to address the rural skills shortage through educating students about the career opportunities in rural communities. 8. Waive HECS-HELP debts for rural practitioners: The strategy provides incentives for rural and urban young people to participate in tertiary

Rural Education Forum Australia Drought Policy Review Submission


education, and then to bring their skills to a regional, rural or remote community. Rural practitioners will be rewarded for working in the bush. A scaled model will consider level of remoteness with appropriate years of service, and rewards professionals who remain in rural communities for longer periods. This strategy will recruit and retain a rural population and a sustainable workforce. It will also ensure that rural Australians have equal access to education, health, social care and other services. 9. Indigenous education: We refer to the Indigenous education ideas presented within the Indigenous stream at the 2020 summit, and propose recognition that since many Indigenous children live in rural areas, that their issues are similarly rural education issues and not necessarily isolated to Indigenous students only. These ideas include: developing a new education framework to give real choice for Indigenous children to get high quality education, including to attend boarding schools or hostels, enabled by a combination of ABSTUDY, private school scholarships and government funding; encouraging high-performing young professionals to work as teachers alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators; and other unreported ideas. 10. Other issues for consideration: Due to time constraints, some important rural education issues were not discussed at the 2020 Summit. These include: increased funding for regional universities; expanding Assistance for Isolated Children eligibility to facilitate choice in education for remote children; educating rural students with a disability, rural migrant and refugee peoples, and rural women. Summary The well being and productivity of rural communities are inextricably part of the whole nation’s sustainability and prosperity. It is critical the Expert Social Panel’s review of Drought Policy delivers policy settings and resourcing that will enable individuals, families and rural communities to look, and act, toward the future with optimism and a strong sense of being valued as contributors to the ‘national good’. Appendix 1 Rural Education Forum Australia Members  Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools Inc  Australian Council of Deans of Education  Australian Council of State Schools Organisations  Australian Education Union  Australian Parents Council  Contact Inc  Country Education Project Inc  Country Women's Association of Australia  Independent Education Union  Independent Schools Council of Australia  Isolated Children's Parents’ Association (Aust)  National Association for Rural Student Accommodation  National Farmers’ Federation

Rural Education Forum Australia Drought Policy Review Submission


National Rural Health Alliance National Rural Health Network Remote and Isolated Children's Exercise Inc Rural and Remote Education Advisory Council (WA) Rural Skills Australia Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia The National Centre of Science, Information and Communications Technology, and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia  Uniting Church Frontier Services References Alston, M. &Kent, J. (2003) Education access for Australia’s rural young people; A case of social exclusion. Australian Journal of Education, Vol 47, No 1, 5-17. Alston, M. &Kent, J. (2006). The impact of drought on secondary education access in Australia’s rural and remote areas. Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia. Ainley, J. (2001). Urban and Rural Differences in Educational Outcomes. Presentation to the Rural Education and Training Workshop, Melbourne. Cocklin, C. & Dibden, J. (Eds.) (2005). Sustainability and Change in Rural Australia. Australia: University of New South Wales Press. Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. Allen Lane Penguin Books, London. Godden, N. (2007). Youth Allowance and Regional Young People: Access to Tertiary Education. Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. Hillman, K and Rothman, S. (2007). Movement of Non-metropolitan Youth Towards Cities. Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (2000). National Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education. Sydney, Australia. McSwan, D (2003). ‘The Rural Population Transformation and Education in Australia’. Education in Rural Australia, 13 (2) pp 3 – 26. Bathurst, NSW: SPERA. Salt, B. (2004). The Big Shift. Hardie Grant Books, Victoria Australia.

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Rural Education Forum Australia Drought Policy Review Submission