Country schools try creative solutions to overcome disadvantage

Oct 31, 2015 by

Kate Nancarrow –

Innovative programs are engaging country students to help overcome low achievement in rural Victoria.

Victorian country schools are designing creative and entrepreneurial programs to help overcome entrenched disadvantage, according to an expert in rural education.

The director of Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute Dr Sara Glover, who co-authored a landmark 2014 report on rural disadvantage, said rural schools were linking with nearby schools, or working with local industries and businesses, to “broaden students’ opportunities and capabilities” and this was helping overcome the difficulties many country students face.

Dr Glover said the socio-economic profile of rural Victoria was lower than metropolitan Melbourne and this flowed on to education, with rural students less likely to finish year 12 than their city counterparts and, even if they did, less likely to go on to university.

But such disadvantage could spur creativity, she said: “I am seeing some really entrepreneurial programs tailored to the needs of students and it may be that when communities have their backs to the wall, they think creatively.”

In the western district town of Timboon, the P-12 school has developed an agricultural precinct in partnership with WestVic Dairy, using funding from the Gardiner Foundation and a Commonwealth government grant. It embeds learning about agriculture into the curriculum from prep, with particular emphasis on maths and science.

“This is a world-class learning experience,” Dr Glover said. “When you think about dairying, it’s a worldwide industry that involves agriculture, marketing, science and exporting.”

Further north, in both Nathalia and Mildura, small district schools were co-operating and sharing resources to give students greater opportunities than each school could offer on its own, she said.

In the Wimmera, schools were working with Anglicare on a program to increase aspirations by exposing students to elite city facilities and the “stars” of sport, music, art and environment. “That is a great program and helps students understand what is possible,” Dr Glover said.

Ararat Secondary College student Riley Taylor attended a Sport to Higher Education camp, visiting Essendon Football Club and Racing Victoria. “It opened my mind about the numbers of jobs involved in football and racing,” he said.

Dr Glover said towns such as Bendigo, Ballarat and Castlemaine were now culture-filled growth areas, but there were still parts of Victoria where students lived very isolated lives, which impacted on their education and ambition: “In remote parts of Gippsland, there are students who have never been to Melbourne.”

Dr Glover said the Andrews’ government’s increased education funding and the emphasis on “learning and relearning” would help rural students by fuelling creative and entrepreneurial thinking, although she said it was already clear country kids had a certain something: “A very high percentage of CEOs come from country backgrounds.”

A spokesman for the minister of education said schools in regional Victoria would receive a doubling of their funding per student under the Andrews government and $120 million would be spent renovating, refurbishing or rebuilding rural and regional schools.

Source: Country schools try creative solutions to overcome disadvantage

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