Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty of Education
Dunn, Elaine Mary, The tyranny of distance, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, 2011. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3391
This research explores the culture of the people living in isolated and remote rural regions in NSW, in the 1950s and 1960s, the educational needs of isolated students, and the challenges faced by young teachers in bringing education to children in these isolated regions. It questions the approaches of the NSW Department of Education to small rural schools during that time and the appropriateness of the school curriculum as an education document for both teachers and students. It acknowledges the need for more specific policy guidelines in rural education and the need to revise teacher education processes. In some ways similar situations still exist today.
The literature deals with education in rural regions and highlights the difficulties faced by successive governments in complying with the 1880 Education Act and its successive amendments. In Australia, the state governments were officially responsible for the education of the children. The standard curriculum, revised in 1952, outlined programs of work to be covered by all primary children. Unfortunately, the rural content failed to accommodate the context in which rural children operated as all children were expected to have the same educational needs and similar background experiences. No recognition was given to the fact that the social and life skills required in the remote rural environments were different from those of urban children. The rural regions needed fresh and innovative approaches to implement the declaration that ‘all children must attend school’. Difficulties were acknowledged, but the changes made fell short of the needs of rural education in remote regions.
I used a narrative inquiry approach during this study to explore the experiences of teachers and students during the 1950s and 1960s. Ten teachers, seven students and two parents participated in the study. Through this methodology I recorded their memories of the perceived role of rural schools from the perspectives of teachers, students and parents. As I was a teacher in the system of education as it operated at the time, I could use my experience to help participants to draw on their experiences to record the issues in rural education that were of concern to them.
My approach to the study enabled me to record the challenges that faced the children in the isolated rural regions. The Department of Education did attempt to ensure that all primary-aged children gained a basic education, but in providing this education, it did not fully understand the difficulties and challenges that could be experienced by the participants. In addition to the organization of small schools and the correspondence school it is discussed as a way of providing distance education for all children. The importance of a school curriculum is reviewed and its importance to the isolated teacher when compiling his weekly lesson programs is acknowledged.
The place of the small schools is summarised as recently as 2005, in the Teachers’ Federation Handbook for small school teachers, as follows: ‘small schools occupy a unique and significant position within the public education system … They provide a focus for community activities and contribute greatly to the social, cultural, educational and sporting life of the community’ (Teachers Federation, Rural Handbook, p.6).