The events of 2020 have shone a spotlight on learning remotely from home as schools and teachers shifted their classes online. However, for many children in Australia, distance education, that is education delivered in the home, is the norm rather than a response to exceptional pandemic circumstances.
Central to the delivery of distance education in Australia are remote education tutors who are accountable for the face-to-face supervision and educational support of students. Unlike schooling at home during the pandemic, it is a requirement that children in Australian schools of distance education have adult supervision for the duration of their school day. Distance education would not be possible without the commitment of these tutors.
There are many problems with the provision of distance education in Australia today. Debates continue over availability, accessibility, and affordability. However we are especially interested in the remote education tutors, the vital role they play and the problems they face.
Remote Education Tutors
Outside the metropolitan cities and regional towns of Australia, much of the country is sparsely populated, with many students requiring remote access to education through distance education schooling. The qualified distance educator who organizes and administers the curriculum for students is often located hundreds of kilometres from where the learning takes place. Families are directly responsible for setting up a dedicated area at home as a formal schoolroom space for children who are being remotely schooled and for supplying a tutor who will oversee the learning.
The tutor who plays this vital part could be a parent or adult family member, a governess, or someone employed by the family to tutor children using the lessons, resources and tools provided by the assigned state or territory government distance education teacher.
The tutors act as facilitators, conduits, and connectors. Successful distance schooling is seen as a shared responsibility of distance education teachers, students and the remote education tutors. Research has highlighted the importance of the partnership between distance educators and the home providers for quality learning outcomes.
Problems with Remote Education Tutors
Although a recommendation to conduct research into the role of the remote education tutors was made over 20 years ago by the Queensland School Curriculum Council, this has received limited research attention. The remote education tutor supervisory responsibility often falls on mothers, who feel obliged to fulfill this multiple and sometimes conflicting role. The assumption that mothers are available to provide this supervision is changing in concert with broader social changes, and many now see it as no longer valid.
However, there is limited literature currently available on the demographics and the work identity of the remote education tutor.
We believe the opportunity for quality distance education is unsustainable and inequitable because of the:
- limited supply of employees to work in remote education positions;
- lack of credentialing opportunities for the roles that remote education tutors play; and
- insufficient government subsidies to assist parents to fund the supervision of their children’s learning.
In addressing these issues, we are researching who is doing the work of Remote Education Tutors, where they are located and their perceptions of their work, including their needs satisfaction. This research is part of work being undertaken as a partnership between Australian Geographically Isolated Learner Education (AGILE) project an the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).
We have just recently activated a national survey to map the experiences and perceptions of remote education tutors. The purpose of this research is to: identify who represents the remote education tutor workforce in Australia; understand how this role impacts on personal lifestyles and professional work; find out how to support those in this role; and inform change.
There are three parts to our survey:
- Part A Australian Remote Education Workforce;
- Part B Remote Education Tutor’s Personal and Professional Perspectives; and
- Part C Remote Education Tutor’s Basic Needs Satisfaction in the Work Domain.
Participation in this project is entirely voluntary and 100% anonymous. For those who are interested, the survey takes about 20 minutes to complete.
As educational researchers from the University of Southern Queensland, we see the potential of the project lies in its capacity to acknowledge the work of remote education tutors, recognise the lifestyle and professional impacts of this essential work, and raise the profile of this role as an occupation.
The often-overlooked role of a remote education tutor In Australia is crucial to ensuring the sustainability and equity of children’s access to consistent and quality educational support.
Dr Karen Peel is a Senior Lecturer of Initial Teacher Education in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland. She has extensive experience in curriculum design and implementation of practices for effective teaching and learning. Her research is situated in the fields of self-regulated learning, classroom behaviour management, teacher resilience and currently in the work of Remote Education Tutors. She has published and co-published in educational journals and refereed books and has presented at a number of national and international educational conferences.
Patrick Danaher is Professor (Educational Research) in the School of Education at the Toowoomba campus of the University of Southern Queensland. Patrick has continuing research interests in rural education, including the educational aspirations and outcomes of occupationally mobile families such as circus and show people who travel through regional, rural and remote communities. More broadly, he is interested in formal education’s ambivalent capacity to perpetuate sociocultural marginalisation and to contribute to sociocultural transformation.
Dr Brad McLennan is a Senior Lecturer of Initial Teacher Education in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland. He has 30 years’ experience in collaborative curriculum design and implementation of practices for effective teaching and learning in both the primary and higher education sectors. His research is situated in the fields of classroom behaviour management, teacher efficacy, self-determination theory and currently in the understated work of Remote Education Tutors. He has published in international and domestic journals and refereed books. As a priority, he continues to forge strong relationships and partnerships between the University and key stakeholders across all facets of education.
The national survey closes on Sunday, 17 January 2021. If you are, or have you been, a governess, home tutor, parent or family tutor, or distance education tutor in Australia, tell us about your experiences because there is not much information about this, and Australia needs to know. We also encourage you to share the survey link.