Bridging the gap to remote education

Bridging the gap to remote education

Bridging the gap to remote education

Quality education for all is the fourth of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Delivering great education to young people in rural and remote areas, like those in northern Queensland, is an obstacle to achieving this goal. International Youth Day 2019 is focused on 'Transforming Education' and highlights efforts to make education more relevant, equitable and inclusive for all youth.

JCU Professor Cliff Jackson knows that when it comes to teaching students in remote areas, the key is to be prepared, and make use of every tool at your disposal.

“We have the internet nowadays so you think, ‘isn’t the world connected?’,” Cliff said.

“But one of the things that comes about when you travel to remote areas, you really see that things happen differently there.

“The facilities that we take for granted in Cairns or Townsville or the major cities just don’t exist.”

From a school sausage sizzle, to a Friday afternoon science class, life gets trickier for teachers in remote towns like those in the Far North of Queensland, such as Bamaga, Weipa, and Mornington Island.

“The simple fact of going to the supermarket for bread, you might find it’s mouldy by the time you get it home,” Cliff said.

“Thinking about, ‘ok I’ll get some pens to do a little science experiment with the kids, oh wait we have to get those pens from Cairns and it takes six weeks on a barge’. A lot of that accessibility and availability of resources is very different in those communities.”

A view over the Atherton tablelands.

While rural areas of Australia create stunning views, like this one over the Atherton Tablelands, the vast distances also present unique challenges to teachers.

A critical tool for pre-service teachers is information communication technology (ICT), which allows them to access the resources on the internet.

A key tenant of Cliff’s classes is to ensure pre-service teachers know that the tool is only as good as the teacher.

“Getting pre-service teachers to see the technology around them as a useful tool, but it is a tool and you have to learn how to use it with school students,” Cliff said.

“Things like mobile phones are fairly ubiquitous now, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have phone coverage in different places.”

The only way to learn these limitations is through experience, which is why it’s critical for pre-service teachers to gain time at the front of a classroom.

“There are challenges that we don’t think of, being located in a metropolitan area,” Cliff said.

“I think the idea is to use as many of the teaching methods as possible that suit the particular situation that students will encounter in their careers.

“If students are used to working with different methods it’s more likely that they will adopt those methods when they go on to teach.”

The advent of technology has also allowed members of remote communities to study degrees online.

According to Cliff, this helps keep teachers in the communities, rather than having a revolving door of new educators doing their time in rural communities.

“I think there’s a lot of benefits to assisting citizens in remote communities to upskill so they can meet the needs of the community rather than having people fly in and fly out,” he said.

“If the people themselves see community members as part of the education system it becomes less of an outsiders insiders game and much more sustainable.”

If you want to build a career in education with the help of leading lecturers and hands-on learning, find out more about JCU Education.

Published 12 Aug 2019