Getting the best education for country students

Associate Professor Bernadette Walker-Gibbs grew up in a small Queensland town and knows at first hand the challenges that face country teachers and students. Her lifelong passion in teaching and research is to ensure children get the best education.

Bernadette employs narrative research for some of her work because the stories we tell about ourselves, what we choose to include – or exclude – show powerfully how we personalise our identity. Sometimes our stories can be intimidating, even when we think they are quite simple.

In large cities, students have a better chance of being assessed as individuals. In rural areas, however, everybody knows your family; students run the risk of being judged on their family history rather than their own merits.

At the same time, parents expect the best from teachers, and often place unrealistic expectations on them, when many teachers in rural areas are young just starting on their career. Rural teachers report:

  • difficulty finding experienced mentors to coach and guide them,
  • fewer promotion and development opportunities than their city peers, and
  • anxiety about more visible in country communities.

Communities and parents need to be educated that teachers are human too.

Bernadette looks at the myths we tell ourselves about country life (think ‘Farmer Wants a Wife’). In cities there is too often an over-simplification of complex and varied communities into a ‘one-size fits all’. These cliches become problematic when embedded in policy.

Most people who make policy live in cities. Perhaps if more of them moved to country communities we would see better policy put in place for all Victorians. More people making a tree change in these post-COVID times might allow rural and regional areas to truly come into their own.

As Bernadette says “Rural and regional communities are their own thing, their own place. We need to understand them individually as well as a collective community. We really need to fully embrace what rural communities and places have to offer, rather than telling them what they should be.”