Think Piece: Supporting Young Talented Rural Students

by | Feb 23, 2017 | Bush Voices

eKids Rural Express 2012 #4Catering for the needs and dreams of “talented”, or “gifted”, school aged students in rural and remote communities across Victoria has been a challenge for many education sectors over numerous years.

While there have been many individual initiatives that have been provided (generally over a short time span) for these students, there has not been a consistent and sustained approach to supporting these eager individuals to have access to the resources and the peer networks they would like to have. The rurally based “Rural eKids” program, involving over 90 upper primary school talented students linked through communication technology is one example.

The State Government is currently exploring the concept of establishing a “boarding school” approach to support a small group of these “gifted” students to be housed in Melbourne thus allowing them the opportunity to attend “select entry schools” within Melbourne to further their academic learning and skills.

During the Summer School Holidays, The Age reported that Ernst and Young were exploring the construction of this “boarding school” concept for “gifted children” from rural communities across the state on behalf of the Department of Education and Training

“It would include a state-government-funded residential college where boys and girls would board while they studied at the state’s four select-entry high schools – Melbourne High School, Macrobertson Girls’ High School, Nossal High School and Suzanne Cory High School” The Age, journalist Henrietta Cook reported.

ekids Orbost 2011 #2While such a concept could provide a valuable opportunity for talented young people across rural Victoria in having access to the programs offered through the above select entry schools, from a rural perspective, there are a number of questions that arise. These questions relate to supporting rural communities in providing high quality learning for its current gifted students and whether moving those students to metropolitan schools is avoiding the “city and country divide” issue at hand.

  • Will relocating talented young people away from their communities, who from a rural community perspective are greatly needed for the future of their townships, be seen as another “brain drain” form such communities? Could it also have the unintended consequence of lower numbers of students in senior years, which in turn will affect the number of courses and subject options available to those who choose to remain with their local community?
  • Is such a concept prompted by the notion that rural communities are unable to cater for such young people, and therefore they have to “be sent” to a metropolitan based school to ensure they reach their career goals and future aspirations?
  • Is there not a creative approach to linking these young people, through the available communication technology, with their peers across a range of schools while allowing them to stay within their families and community thus supporting rural community sustainability through involvement in local businesses, community organisations, and sporting clubs? Could such communication technology also be utilised in linking rural students into programs offered through select entry schools?
  • Should governments and education sectors be looking at developing partnerships of schools (and linking them to outside organisations such as Scienceworks, Museums, State Library, etc) across rural Victoria to allow high quality staff to be shared; and students within these communities being able to learn with their peers and other students of “like mind”? Is there an opportunity for a “hothousing” approach that could be explored?

Mallee Track SLV Project #1Within the current State Government policy framework, which aims to establish Victoria as the “Education State”, could we not take the opportunity to be creative and build on recent examples that have focused on young people across these rural communities thus building the capacity of their schools in being able to support talented students while allowing them to remain connected to their community and more importantly to their families?

A recent example is the highly successful partnership that was developed between the State Library of Victoria and the Mallee Track Cluster of schools, where a small group of talented upper primary school students were involved in a research based project focusing on literacy (Young Research Fellows) that resulted in their stories being published within a book.

Or another, where the development of the Aurora College within New South Wales (the NSW Virtual Selective High School) has resulted in gifted and talented students who have superior to very superior academic ability, which is matched by exceptionally high classroom performance, being catered for and extended.

Aurora, which aims to link such talented students across rural and remote New South Wales from Year 7 through to Year 12, supports students in their learning by allocating high quality staff from a rural school to each subject. The program is provided through a blended learning approach that sees students involved in”

  • Regular online classes delivered by the teachers
  • A number of residential camps where students come together with their teachers and are involved in a range of intensive learning activities, that often involve outside partner organisations as well as providing the opportunity to meet face to face with their fellow students.
  • A range of online resources and learning activities that can be accessed by the students.

With the learnings from these, and other, great initiatives in this space, the rapid growth of communication technology, and the need to improve education opportunities and performance in rural Victoria, could we not see the development of an approach within Victoria that not only allows talented rural students being involved in high quality learning, but also allows them to stay involved in their local community – thus not only challenging them in their own learning, but also supporting them to stay connected and contributors to their families and communities.

Would this not be a viable, and cheaper alternative for the State Government to consider?

As one rural young person shared,

“Is this exploration going to hugely effect the communities which we all grow up in and further the education gap between rural and metropolitan young people. We want quality education in the bush for all young people (including talented young people), where we are now and not be shipped across the state to signify our importance”?