As part of a new Closing the Gap initiative, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed plans for teachers to have their university debts waived if they commit to working in remote indigenous communities for four years or more.
Though many have welcomed this announcement, some education experts have expressed their views that more should be done to attract locals into the teaching profession.
Associate Professor Philip Roberts is an expert in rural and remote education at the University of Canberra. He welcomed Mr Morrison’s announcement to wipe HECS debts of new teachers committing to working in very remote communities as a “positive first step”.
“The attraction and retention of teachers in rural regional and remote communities has been a problem since the advent of compulsory education,” he said.
But he added, “Attention also needs to be given to the conditions teachers experience, as resourcing, access to professional development, quality housing, and limited support staff are amongst the most cited reasons teachers leave these settings.”
Professor Roberts also highlighted the importance of attracting teachers into the profession from rural and remote areas. “All major studies show that teachers from rural regional and remote areas often return to, and remain, in these communities,” he said.
“Perhaps more importantly, they also understand the students’ backgrounds and can better connect their teaching to those students’ needs and pre-existing understandings.”
Dr John Guenther of the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education agreed. He highlighted that local instructors who understood local needs was amplified when it came to remote Indigenous education.
In this context, he said, “The importance of having Aboriginal staff, Aboriginal teacher assistants and Aboriginal teachers, particularly local ones, becomes really, really important for the outcomes of students.”