14 SES 07 B, Challenges and Opportunities in Rural Education Research
In keeping with the conference theme which relates to the ubiquity and intensiveness of calls for educational change, this proposal addresses the response of one political jurisdiction to the way it is framed in deficit through national and international measurement systems and in policy discourse. In 2015, in response to historically low rates of secondary completion and tertiary participation, the state of Tasmania launched a project to pilot the delivery of years 11 and 12 programming in six rural high schools. Previously, upper secondary programming has been only available in colleges located in cities and regional towns. This initiative was extended to an additional six schools in 2016. In 2017, an additional 17 schools will be “expanded.” The ultimate intent of this project is to improve educational outcomes and retention through core structural change which expands local access to Years 11 and 12 education in rural communities
Both state and the national media and public policy discourse have long focused attention on low educational attainment and low levels of upper secondary retention and completion in rural Tasmania. Analysis of this problem points to factors such as the labour market effects of a history of resource extraction and agriculture, dispersed communities with low population density, and what is considered to be a culture that does not accept or value extended formal education (West, 2013). This educational "underperformance" is positioned in much economic and social policy discourse as both a limitation for individuals in contemporary employment markets, but also an impediment to competitiveness and prosperity at a state level.
Research into the culture of low educational achievement in rural Tasmania has pointed to kinship and community networks and labour market conditions that allow youth access employment without many formal educational credentials (Abbott-Chapman, 2001; Falk and Kilpatrick, 2000; Kilpatrick and Abbott-Chapman, 2002; Watson et al, 2016 ). At the same time, geographic distance and the structure of upper secondary offerings combine to make it difficult for many young peope to access upper secondary and tertiary educational opportunities (Eslake, 2015, 2016; Ramsay and Rowan, 2015; Turner and Hawkins, 2014; Watson et al, 2013). For the most economically challenged families in the more rural and remote parts of the state, educational access, particularly to academic curriculum is most problematic (Lamb, 2011; Perry and Southwell, 2014).
We understand problems of educational retention and attainment using Actor Network Theory (Fenwick and Edwards, 2011; Latour, 2007), which focuses on the way that multiple networks operate in social space to contest and frame arguments and perspectives. While there is a growing consensus across multiple actor networks that educational achievement in Tasmania is a problem, how this problem is framed, interpreted and acted upon differs widely. In this research to contextualize and problematize structured understandings that frame the analysis of educational challenges in the state.
This paper reports on data from the first two years of a longitudinal research project designed to evaluate the effectiveness of this initiative through its initial three-year roll-out. Our theoretical perspective sensitizes us to the way that this initiative itself generates discourse, response, alliances, conflicts, and new configurations of power and influence both within rural communities and between members of these communities and members of state regulatory networks. We are also sensitive to the way that key conceptual categories such as rural, remote, achievement, aspirations, community, futures and development are discursive constructions mobilized and employed to construct reality and to realize political objectives.
Abbott-Chapman, J. (2001). Rural resilience: youth “making a life” in regions of high unemployment. Youth Studies Australia, 20(3), 26. Eslake, S. (2015). Tasmania Report. Retrieved January 14, 2016, from http://www.tcci.com.au/Events/Tasmania-Report. Eslake, S. (2016). Tasmania Report. Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce an dIndusstry. Retrieved from www.tcci.com.au/Events/Past-Events-(1)/Tasmania-Report-2016 Falk, I., & Kilpatrick, S. (2000). What is Social Capital? A Study of Interaction in a Rural Community. Sociologia Ruralis, 40(1), 87–110. Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. New York: Vintage. Kilpatrick, S., & Abbott-Chapman, J. (2002). Rural young people’s work/study priorities and aspirations: The influence of family social capital. The Australian Educational Researcher, 29(1), 43–67. Lamb, S. (2011). School Dropout and Completion in Australia. In S. Lamb, E. Markussen, R. Teese, J. Polesel, & N. Sandberg (Eds.), School Dropout and Completion (pp. 321–339). Springer Netherlands. Latour, B. (2007). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, USA. Leander, K. M., Phillips, N. C., & Taylor, K. H. (2010). The Changing Social Spaces of Learning: Mapping New Mobilities. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 329–394. Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169. Turner, L. R., & Hawkins, C. (2014). Revised expected outcomes: Essential for attracting Tasmanian students to careers in agricultural science. Australian Journal of Career Development, 23(2), 88–95. Watson, J., Allen, J., Beswick, K., Cranston, N., Hay, I., Wright, S., & Kidd, L. (2013). Issues related to students’ decisions to remain in school beyond Year 10. Youth Studies Australia, 32(2), 21-29. Watson, J., Wright, S., Hay, I., Beswick, K., Allen, J., & Cranston, N. (2016). Rural and regional students’ perceptions of schooling and factors that influence their aspirations. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 26(2), 4–18. White, S., & Corbett, M. (2014). Doing Educational Research in Rural Settings: Methodological issues, international perspectives and practical solutions. New York: Routledge.
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