Voice for Rural Youth

Fresh from being named VCE Leader of the Year, Rural Youth Ambassador Joe Collins has urged country students to create change by putting rural education in the political spotlight.

The 18-year-old said with a state election looming, country students had a prime opportunity to advocate for the future direction and improved delivery of their education.

“The current mindset is that rural and remote students are second to metropolitan kids and that we should just accept less, that we should settle for less, but I’m saying we should challenge that.

“It is up to us to demand attention, to demand equality; if rural communities don’t start having a go, we may as well pack our bags and move to the city like everyone else because that’s what the system would have us do but is that what we want?”

Born and raised on a farm at Woomelang in the Mallee, Joe said his passion for rural Victoria was “probably inevitable” but that his involvement in the Country Education Partnership’s (CEP) Rural Youth Ambassador Program in 2016 made him realise his voice and his concerns had a right to be heard.

“The program helped me develop into the best version of myself. It empowered me to have a go,” he said.

“When you’re sitting down in Melbourne with various state ministers something shifts in you and you realise you can make a difference or, at least, that you can try.

“We need our schools to succeed, so our towns don’t die and we (students) should want to be the ones making sure that happens.”

Joe believes for schools in sparsely populated areas to thrive, they must work or ‘cluster’ together, pooling resources, such as teachers, equipment and even lesson plans.

But for that to occur, schools must be given impetus and freedom to do so.

“You look at what’s happening up here in the Mallee where schools are starting to work together more routinely, and you can see the potential.

“I think it shows that the Department (of Education) needs to adjust its approach to rural education because the Principals are (adjusting), and it is working.”

The CEP Rural Youth Ambassador program was initiated in 2011 to provide a formal state-wide voice for country students.

Joe has urged all eligible candidates to stand up and ‘have a go’.

I would tell anyone contemplating the program to honestly consider how passionate they are about making a difference,” he said.

“You’ve got to be passionate and positive because this is your time and, ultimately, it’s your future too.

“Rural young people do some truly fantastic things and the Ambassador program is a way to get their ideas out there for everyone to see.”

Next month Joe will begin his first year at university in Melbourne, studying Agriculture and Technology at La Trobe University, for which he has been bestowed the Macpherson Smith Rural Foundation Scholarship.

And though he admits he is nervous about city life, he is already looking ahead for ways he can use his studies to improve rural education outcomes.

“Unless we get it (rural education) right, it will die and then there’ll be nothing left up this end of town, so to speak, and that’s probably my biggest fear, given my dream is to run the farm one day, have kids, and know they can be schooled locally.”

Further information about the Rural Youth Ambassador Program can be found online at www.cep.org.au