Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

Leading Remotely: Exploring the Experiences of Principals in Rural and Remote School Communities in Jamaica

Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

Leading Remotely: Exploring the Experiences of Principals in Rural and Remote School Communities in Jamaica

Article excerpt

Introduction & Conceptualisation

A number of studies on rural and remote education include a definition of these terms, although each differ, based on the author's perspective and the focus of the research (Starr & White, 2008; Smith & Smith, 2009). According to Cobbold (2006), this has resulted in "atmosphere of conceptual chaos" (p. 455). In their simplest forms, "rural" and "remote" are used to describe geographical areas that are not urban. Several characteristics such as population density, distance from other centers, community size and the degree of isolation from an urban center have been used to try to provide a reliable method of defining "rural" and "remote" (McShane & Walton, 1990). Accordingly, UNESCO (n.d.), provides that "Rural areas comprise human settlements of less than 10,000 people and the rural space is dominated by farms, forests, water, mountains and/or desert" (p. 1). However, the mostly widely used variable for defining "rural" is population density: an area is rural if population density is below 150 inhabitants per square kilometre (OECD, 1994). d'Plesse (1993) contended "the correlation between distance and evidence of remoteness of populations is not necessarily linear" (p. 2) whereas Howley, Theobald, and Howley (2005) proposed that "the rural in rural is not most significantly the boundary around it, but the meanings inherent in rural lives, wherever lived" (p. 1).

For many students in rural and remote communities, the nature of their isolation has changed and continues to change. Fitzpatrick (1983) suggested that, in the past they had few opportunities to go down to town and interact with other people. More recently, and nowadays, however, with modern technology, students may not have a variety of contact with life and others in their communities as they once did. In other words, due to improvements in transport and communications infrastructure, there are increased opportunities for students to communicate with individuals outside of their immediate home and community environments. As a result of this shift, several researchers (Moriarity, Donaher, & Donaher, 2003; Cobbold, 2006; Hardre, 2007; Wallace & Boylan, 2009) recommended flexibility in conceptualising terms such as "rural", "remote" and "isolated", versus sticking to fixed definitions, in recognition that rural environments are constantly changing.

Literature Review

There is some literature which cautions against conceptualizing rural as being lacking compared with urban (Moriarity, Donaher, & Donaher, 2003). This is sometimes called the 'rural deficit model (Cobbold, 2006; Cornish, 2009). Evans described a flawed binary which frames rural as "the negative (poor, unsophisticated, underdeveloped) corollary of the urban (rich, sophisticated, developed)" (p. 170), arguing that this dualism is too sweeping. This, however, should not be taken to mean as there are no challenges to the educational provision for students in rural locations. Rather, that the situation is not simply clear cut. Wallace and Boylan (2009) and Christie (2008) pointed to the danger of assuming that improving educational opportunities for rural and remote students means providing them with an urban-based education, whereas Cornish (2009) and Khupe, Kean, and Cameron (2009) encouraged us to consider the context and needs of students. Despite this and despite widespread recognition of the value of preparing teachers for rural and remote experiences (Lock, 2008; Halsey, 2009), there is only limited evidence of progress in terms of addressing the needs of rural students, or in terms of preparing teachers for the realities and needs of students in these schools (Boylan, 2004; Hardre, 2009), with only few teacher training institutions providing field experiences for trainee teachers that prepare them for the rural teaching experience (Lopes, O'Donoghue, & O'Neil, 2011).

The National Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education in Australia (HREOC, 2000) found "most teacher training does not adequately equip new recruits with the skills and knowledge needed for teaching in the rural and remote areas" (p. …

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