Academic journal article Teaching Science

Perceptions of Science in One-Teacher Schools

Academic journal article Teaching Science

Perceptions of Science in One-Teacher Schools

Article excerpt

Science in rural and remote schools has received unenviable press around the world. The political and administrative spotlight has fallen on the inadequate physical resources available to rural schools (Hawkes, Halverson and Brockmueller, 2002), inadequate professional development (Howley, Chadwick and Howley, 2002), and the problems maintaining laboratories and computer-based resources (Lyons, Cooksey, Panizzon, Parnell, and Pegg, 2006). Even the advantage of smaller class sizes can negatively affect the delivery of science when senior sciences are more commonly taught in composite classes (Lyons et al, 2006).

Introduction

Recruitment and retention of staff are also ongoing concerns (Spring, 2001) and teachers in rural schools are often reported to be less qualified and less experienced than those in urban schools (Bush, 2005). Science teachers are in particularly short supply (Lyons et al, 2006) and their workload in small rural schools is aggravated by shortages in support staff for ESL and Additional Needs students. Further, the teachers who are available are often there for the short term as a result of coercion (Cavicchiolo and Davis, 2004), rather than for intrinsic satisfaction. These factors are interrelated. New teachers are easier to coerce, and country service becomes a right of passage to gain entry into a school nearer family and friends (Lyons et al, 2006). Since they are not planning to stay they have less drive to make permanent relationships within the community (Appleton, 1998), and little impetus (and often insufficient time) to learn enough about the community to employ the available social capital and teaching opportunities provided by the rural environment (Lake, Faragher, Lenoy, Sellwood, Archer and Anderson, 2006). Not surprisingly, the community often views teachers as transients who become mistrusted or simply ignored (Mills and Gale, 2003). The cultural mismatch becomes apparent in the different expectations of teachers and aspirations of students. Nineteen per cent of rural students go on to higher education, compared with thirty per cent of the general population (James, Wyn, Baldwin, Hepworth, McInnes and Stephanou 1999). Trade qualifications suit them and their families by allowing them to remain in small towns where there are no career paths for university graduates (Ley, Nelson and Beltyukova, 1996), but trade qualifications can be devalued by university-trained, non-local teachers (James et al, 1999).

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Despite this, Cross and Burney (2005) described a number of features which worked to the particular advantage of gifted and talented students in small (300-400 students) rural high schools in America, where distances are comparable to those found in Australia. They suggest small rural schools have the ability to tailor academic opportunities at the individual level, in a family-like atmosphere which results from the schools' 'connectedness to their communities'. In this atmosphere gifted students were: 'less likely to be seen in the one dimension of giftedness, but rather as composites of their activities and talents.' As a result, they were 'more positive about school, had higher academic self concepts, had at least equal academic achievement, had fewer disciplinary incidents and better attendance, participated in extracurricular activities at a higher rate and had lower dropout rates and a greater sense of belonging.' (p.149)

However, the American situation is hard to extrapolate to rural Australia. With a population of roughly twenty-one million people spread over nearly eight million square kilometres and 85% of those living in metropolitan areas (Graetz, Fisher, Wilson, and Campbell, 1998) the population density of rural Australia is about 0.4 people per square kilometre. Rural Australia is heterogeneous, with relatively closely-settled small towns in horticultural coastal areas contrasting with widely dispersed communities in the pastoral interior. …

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