Academic journal article Rural Society

Pedagogical Sustainability of a Rural School and Its Relationship with Community

Academic journal article Rural Society

Pedagogical Sustainability of a Rural School and Its Relationship with Community

Article excerpt

Introduction

Rural schooling is recognised by some as a vital component of Australian culture. In a speech to the Australian Labour Party National Conference, Stephen Smith (2007), Minister for Foreign Affairs, identified rural schooling as a government priority. Kilpatrick, Johns and Mulford's (2003a) research emphasised the importance of community connectedness to rural schools and their survival. Kilpatrick, Johns, Mulford, Falk and Prescott (2002) indicated that sustaining schools in rural contexts builds capacity in these communities, both at a systematic level including economic development, and at the level of personal empowerment. Rural schooling is important to the sustainability of rural community.

Research has also indicated that rural schooling has positive consequences for students. Yang and Fetsch (2007) demonstrated that rural children have equal self-esteem, if not higher, compared to urban children. Reeves and Bylund's (2005) empirical research indicated that rural children's academic achievements are equal to, or better than, their urban counterparts.

Despite acknowledgement of rural schools as a significant and important Australian resource, the sustainability of rural schooling is problematic. Analysis of a school closures spreadsheet released by the Queensland Department of Education, Training and the Arts revealed that since 2003 an average of two rural schools have closed per year. Miller (2008) reported the threat of closure of the Ramsay, Queensland school. The article reported that Ramsay is a 127-year-old school with a current enrolment of ten students from prep through to year seven. There are multiple quotations throughout the article from community members naming the school as the 'heart' of the community. The article closes with the statement, 'We aren't just talking about our school here, we are talking about saving our unique community - we can't let them throw away our history.' ABC Brisbane (2008) reported the potential closure of Ropeley and Junction View state schools, where there is a combined enrolment of 18 students. The article stated that the 'Education Department is basing their closure decision on the 'region's growth', 'travelling distance to other schools' and, most applicable in the context of this article, 'community service obligations.' In other words, one of the factors that might contribute to the sustainability of small, rural schools is the maturity of the school- community partnership (Kilpatrick et al., 2003b).

Morgan and Blackmore's (2007) research identified some of the vulnerabilities of rural schooling as: 'demographic trends (ageing population; declining birth rate and changing farming practices) and the vagaries of climate, now exacerbated in the twenty-first century, which can spell prosperity or ruin' (p. 2). The authors wrote that parents are choosing to educate their children outside of their rural communities due to the misconception that bigger and private is better. Thereby, another threat to rural school sustainability is public perception. Jones (2004) interpreted his statistical analysis to mean that Australian children enrolled in private urban schools have a significant academic and social advantage over those children who are not. It is this dominant discourse of rural disadvantage that is challenged through this empirical research into teaching and learning and relationship with community of a small, rural school in southeast Queensland.

Literature review

We conducted the literature search through EBSCOhost MegaFILE Premier which includes: Academic Search Premier; EJS-E-Journals; ERIC; and Professional Development Collection. The search specifications were: research manuscripts; scholarly (peer-reviewed) journals; 2000-2008 publication year; search terms - rural and primary school. One hundred eleven documents emerged in the results list. Of these 111, eight were multiple listings of the same article and three were unrelated. …

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