Academic journal article Rural Society

Perceptions of Educational Opportunities in Small Schools in Rural Australia and Canada

Academic journal article Rural Society

Perceptions of Educational Opportunities in Small Schools in Rural Australia and Canada

Article excerpt


Almost three decades ago Roy Nash argued that 'the problems of rural education are not different in kind from those in urban areas . . . but are to be understood as determined by the relationships which exist between the urban centres and the rural areas' (Nash, 1980, p. 18). An enduring relationship between urban and rural areas is to be found in the perceptions that rural school leavers have of opportunities available to them locally and in other places as they prepare to leave school and, in some cases, their homes, communities and ways of life. In large countries such as Australia and Canada, rural school leavers can face difficulties perceiving ways of life that are distant from their homes and different from familiar, local environments. Students in small schools in rural Canada, like their counterparts in rural Australia, face issues grounded in geographical isolation when making post-compulsory educational and vocational choices.

An enduring question in Australian and Canadian education is how students graduating from small schools in rural communities make educational and career decisions regarding non-local environments about which many have little first-hand experience but to which they must relocate for further education and work. The issue of some young rural people being more isolated from post-secondary school educational and career opportunities than others - while living within the same community - is not widely recognised, in spite of the social and educational implications that this entails. A move from a rural to an urban community and school is not merely a physical change of location for students; it involves intellectual and emotional adjustments and rural school leavers can experience these in different ways (Chenoweth & Galliher, 2004).

Rural school leavers in Australia

Young people within a rural Queensland community that were the focus of the following study experienced geographical isolation in different ways (Stevens, 2007). Geography contributed to social differentiation by influencing their objective and subjective engagement with the non-local world, thereby shaping post-secondary educational and vocational outcomes (Stevens, 1998). For some young rural school leavers the problem of what to do at the conclusion of compulsory education is confusing: where should they go to complete their secondary education? Which senior high school subjects are required for enrolment in possible future higher education courses? For many rural students completing Year 10, there is doubt that they will be able to compete with their urban counterparts who have been educated in much larger schools and who do not face the disruption of having to leave home to complete Years 11 and 12. Beyond these immediate concerns, many young rural school leavers face the issue of making personal sense of the non-local world that, in some cases, has never been experienced previously (Stewart, 2003).

Urban teachers and rural students

While students in rural schools in Australia and Canada focus on post-secondary educational possibilities in urban centres that are often distant from their homes, pre-service teachers in universities located in urban areas face a different problem. In the graduate secondary teacher education program at a Canadian university, pre-service teachers have been introduced to Australian as well as Canadian rural student research that focuses on isolation based on the objective and subjective distance between small secondary schools and tertiary educational institutions such as universities and polytechnics (Stevens, 2008b). Many Canadian pre-service teachers feel isolated from the rural schools within which many expect to be employed when they graduate. A program has been developed that links teacher education for urbanbased pre-service teachers with in-service teachers who are employed in small rural schools in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond. …

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