Engaging rural knowledges in curriculum enactment: the case of STEM in rural schools

Year: 2019

Author: Roberts, Philip

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The-IRRRRE (Halsey 2018) called for further research into rural, regional and remote education - this paper begins this engagement from the perspective of curriculum inquiry and its central question of ‘What, and whose, knowledge is of most worth?’ Problematically, much research and practice into overcoming the ‘rural problem’ assumes a deficit discourse and consequently seeks to redress rural ‘under-achievement’ through approaches to enhance achievement within the existing curriculum and post-education pathways. In these dominant approaches the nature of knowledge is naturalised so that achievement in assessment systems can be enhanced. Within this context the nuances of knowledges of, and from, the rural are marginalised in favour of that codified in the curriculum and existing curriculum enactment (as evidenced in texts, curriculum resources and assessment tools).

The resultant challenge is to build knowledge in curriculum enactment that engages with, and from, a rural perspective. In considering how this can be achieved this paper engages with the difficulty of defining the rural as an opportunity to explore the nature of knowledge in rural schools and its relationship to the existing curriculum. When we start from the position that there are a multiplicity of meanings of the rural (Roberts & Green, 2013), and that the resultant multiple ways of representing the rural tend to draw upon divergent epistemological traditions (Woods, 2011) we can approach the ‘problem of knowledge’ (Young & Muller, 2016) from a rural perspective. From this perspective what counts as ‘powerful knowledge’ and dominates existing curriculum enactment is characteristically western-scientific knowledge of the global metropole.

To illustrate this argument, I draw upon a recent empirical study of rural students, teachers, community and industry understandings of, and engagement with, STEM subjects in the senior secondary curriculum. This study noted the different engagements, and understandings, of these subjects related to intended post-university pathways. Specifically, students intending to move to university saw these subjects as valuable and studied them as abstract forms of knowledge, whereas students intending to remain local post-school saw these as not important to their futures. Furthermore, teachers were not easily able to relate the utility of these subjects to locally orientated careers and industry and as such were not able to make them easily knowable to students. Coupling the finding that there is work to be done in building knowledge from a rural perspective and the different ways of understanding the rural, an approach to such knowledge building as curriculum enactment is proposed.