Author: Rosemary Conn
The divide between education outcomes in the bush and in the city is unquestionable. In Australia right now, a student’s postcode plays an unacceptably large role in determining their education success.
As CEO of Australian Schools Plus, I visit country areas, talking with local educators, parents and students. Their stories reinforce independent research that shows students living regionally face educational disadvantage and often lag behind their urban peers in tests such as NAPLAN.
The recently released Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education has played a critical role in highlighting the key barriers and challenges that impact the educational outcomes of these students.
Ours was one of the 340 submissions which informed the review, led by the Emeritus Professor Dr John Halsey. The resulting report reinforces our own strong interest in ensuring funding is directed to activities that best address the challenges holding back disadvantaged students.
Philanthropy features as one of Dr Halsey’s 11 overall recommendations. Dr Halsey says there is “significant potential to improve the contribution of philanthropy to regional, rural and remote education and the impact it can have on raising achievements…”.
At Schools Plus, we connect donors who know the importance of a great education, with schools seeking funding for activities and equipment that will improve students’ outcomes. We were founded as a direct result of Recommendation 41 of the Gonski Review, which called for an organisation ‘to provide national leadership in philanthropy in schooling’.
More than 4,600 schools in Australia (Government, Independent, Catholic) have an Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) value below 1000 and are therefore eligible for support via Schools Plus. Of these, nearly 3,000 schools – almost two-thirds – are classified as regional, rural or remote.
In our first two years, Schools Plus received nearly $7 million of funding submissions from regional, remote and rural schools. In response, we’ve been able to support 92 rural schools, benefitting 28,000 students.
One of the most common requests we receive from regional schools is for funds to bring in external expertise with different skillsets. We also get ongoing requests to support professional learning, often in the areas of literacy, numeracy and STEM, so that teachers are better equipped to use new programs and equipment.
This reflects Dr Halsey’s review findings, which indicate “more needs to be done to grow the expertise of teachers who are already in regional, rural and remote schools”.
‘Building Minds for the Future’ at Kempsey East Public School is one example of a STEM-related professional development project we’ve funded, which has had significant ripple effects for its broader community.
By providing funding to support the training of just one educator, the school’s passionate teacher/librarian/computer coordinator, Katherine Lollback, was able to roll-out a whole-school program to teach students basic computing skills, as well as lead a program to train other teachers at Kempsey East.
By also sharing her expertise with a group of 28 computer coordinators in schools across the NSW Mid North Coast, this small amount of funding has developed the skills of about 40 teachers and nearly 500 students in the region.
Through the close ties I’ve developed with schools right across Australia, like Kempsey East, the evidence consistently shows me that there’s a real need for extra funding to support student outcomes in regional, remote and rural communities.
Projects like the one at Kempsey – funded by Aussie philanthropists – are helping regional educators to bridge to divide with their metropolitan cousins.
It’s my hope that there’s a concentrated effort by many – including Government and philanthropists from the city and country – to work together in response to the recommendations in Dr Halsey’s review. Our next generation of leaders is depending on it.
Rosemary Conn is the CEO of Schools Plus, with extensive experience in the business and not-for-profit worlds. She has worked closely with schools, corporations and the community to bring about positive change in previous roles with Beacon Foundation, CAF Australia and Deloitte.