Connecting to place: socially just futures for rural students in Victorian secondary schools.

Year: 2019

Author: Glowrey, Cheryl

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In June 2019, the front page of the Victorian newspaper, The Age, reported the widening achievement gap between rural and urban students completing the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). Declining results were attributed to issues of equity and access, the assumption being that young people should leave their communities for universities and employment at the end of school. The media report positioned rural students as feeling inadequate compared to urban students, isolated by distance from Melbourne with parents unable to fund university education, apparently blind to the opportunities for young people staying in regional places.

Globalisation, automation and sustainability issues related to climate change are reshaping regional and rural places in Victoria. In keeping with a rural social space perspective, each place, with its unique demography, geography and history responds differently to these forces. From a rural standpoint the widening gap between rural and urban school results is more about relevance for young people choosing to stay in their communities. In this globalizing society, many rural young people have a stronger connection to place, see interconnections between other rural places, regional centres and urban centres and possess social capital that differs from that presupposed by school and education authorities. For some, informal learning out of school is more relevant to them and their families than the formal learning required in school.

However, not all rural young people have access to the experiences and social capital to succeed in a changing community. The role of teachers and schools in strengthening social capacity, building community connections and developing skills for future work is vital and needs to occur well before the final year of school. This research examines the critical place of curriculum in years 7 - 9 in rural secondary schools as the means for engaging students in the local community. It looks at the impact of curriculum accountability on the ability of schools to engage in learning outside of the classroom. Interviews with leaders, students and teachers in one rural community articulate a stronger role for the local secondary school in connecting to place and highlight the current challenges to achieving this.