The experiences and needs of rural teachers in a number of countries are remarkably similar and point to specific types of support important to their teaching practice, according to a keynote speaker at the first International Symposium for Innovation in Rural Education (ISFIRE).
The symposium is taking place at the University of New England this week.
Associate Professor Patricia Hardré from the University of Oklahoma told delegates that experience in nine different countries showed the importance of support such as access to specialised mentoring taking into account the local culture of the areas to which teachers are appointed.
‘This helps teachers realise the role of local culture, and specific issues that may have an impact,’ Dr Hardré said. ‘It helps them to be not only better prepared and more aware of local requirements, but more confident in the teaching approaches they adopt.’
Ongoing professional development was also critical, Dr Hardré said – for good curriculum development and the educational development of students, as well as the personal development of the teacher. And rural teachers typically had much less access to professional development than their non-rurally-based counterparts.
She added that, in working with rural and remote communities, a ‘symbiosis between teachers and community’ was also important. ‘Community leaders need to be identified and brought on board to work effectively with teachers in schools,’ Dr Hardré said. ‘This is an education that has to go both ways.’
The symposium also heard that, with a limit being reached on the extent to which small schools can be closed or amalgamated, the challenge for educational authorities and governments was in ‘developing policies that would provide these schools with the support they need to be successful’.
Professor Dennis Mulcahy from Memorial University in Canada spoke on this subject, highlighting a number of policy changes that he said would be needed in the areas of programming, resource provision, teacher education, professional development and distance learning to enable these schools to succeed.
‘Governments and educational authorities must go beyond the mere acceptance of the remaining small schools as a necessary if regrettable reality,’ Professor Mulcahy said. ‘They must embrace and celebrate these small schools as not only viable but as valuable resources for the sustainability and development of the communities they serve.’
Speakers from around the world are attending the four-day event, which offers an international forum for sharing research findings, innovative ideas and evaluated approaches to boost education in the bush. International data confirm that for many countries the learning achievements of students in rural areas are often significantly lower than those achieved by peers in metropolitan areas.
The symposium, which runs until Saturday 14 February, is a joint initiative between the National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR Australia) based at the University of New England, and NURI-Teacher Education Innovation Centre at the Kongju National University in South Korea (which will host the next symposium in 2011). More information is available at: http://www.une.edu.au/simerr/ISFIRE
THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Professor Youn-Kee Im, Head of the NURI Teacher Education Innovation Centre at Kongju National University in South Korea (left) and UNE’s Professor John Pegg, Director of SiMERR Australia. It expands to include Associate Professor Patricia Hardré (University of Oklahoma, USA) and Professor Dennis Mulcahy (Memorial University, Canada).