The education system, as experienced by remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia, presents considerable challenges. While 'the system' continues to apply considerable resources to remote schools, outcomes have not, for the most part, improved. Low enrolments and attendance are indicative of a mismatch between the real needs of community education and the resources needed to support it. It could be argued that rather than focusing on learning, the emphasis is on providing an education product that mirrors the classrooms of mainstream Australia, perhaps with the desks moved around to suit the remote context. There may be a tendency to place the blame for the system's failure on communities (for example by applying sanctions for non-attendance) without questioning what the real problem is. The Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP) in its Remote Education Systems (RES) project is trying to understand why this might be and is also attempting to identify local, community driven solutions to the 'problem' of remote education.
The RES project is in the process of building its research program across five remote sites in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. As the project begins, the researchers involved have begun to consider what the assumptions behind the 'system' in its current form(s), are. The paper begins with an outline of the context of remote education in Australia within a rapidly changing global environment. However, the purpose of the paper is to outline many of the assumptions built into remote education and to question their validity before suggesting some alternatives to these assumptions. The authors go on to imagine a different education system in remote communities where 'success' is measured and achieved in terms of the community's imagined future for its children and young people. There are of course risks associated with trying new things, but ultimately given the apparent failure of the remote education system-measured by its own indicators of success-the authors ask' 'do we really need those desks?'.