Les­son on the land

In­ten­sive coun­try place­ments can put you on the fast track, writes Lau­ren Ah­wan

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UNIVER­SITY stu­dents are tak­ing up in­ten­sive six-month place­ments in the coun­try to give them a taste of work life out­side the city and fast-track their ca­reers.

Bach­e­lor of Ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents at Flin­ders Univer­sity in Ade­laide are among those ex­tend­ing the usual few weeks of work ex­pe­ri­ence re­quired through their de­grees to more in­ten­sive stays.

School of Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­fes­sor John Halsey, the Sid­ney Myer Chair of Ru­ral Ed­u­ca­tion and Com­mu­ni­ties, says its Ex­tended Ru­ral Practicum Pro­gram is a se­mes­ter-long place­ment that gives stu­dents first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the pros and cons of work­ing in coun­try schools.

He says the place­ments give stu­dents soft skills, such as re­spon­si­bil­ity; hard skills, as they are given a wider work load; and an in­sight into the pro­mo­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able in re­gional cen­tres.

‘‘ In a small pop­u­la­tion cen­tre, the space and the abil­ity to re­cover from er­ror is less,’’ Prof Halsey says.

‘‘ To put it suc­cinctly, if you put a few too many drinks un­der your belt one night and your stu­dents and par­ents see you, it’s a prob­lem. You are on duty 24-7.

‘‘ But that also (trans­lates to) the rich­ness of face-to-face con­tact and the build­ing of re­la­tion­ships within the com­mu­nity.’’

He says ru­ral school teach­ers typ­i­cally have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to take on lead­er­ship roles early in their ca­reer.

This is largely be­cause teach­ers from neigh­bour­ing schools still are a con­sid­er­able dis­tance away and not as likely to ap­ply for the po­si­tion as their coun­ter­parts vy­ing for pro­mo­tions in the met­ro­pol­i­tan area, who would be re­quired to travel only from one sub­urb to an­other.

He says work­ers of­ten re­gard work in the coun­try as more re­ward­ing.

The Aus­tralian Ed­u­ca­tion Union says se­ri­ous staff short­ages al­ready ex­ist within ru­ral schools, pro­vid­ing solid job op­por­tu­ni­ties for teach­ing grad­u­ates who are will­ing to work in coun­try ar­eas.

Other in­dus­tries, in par­tic­u­lar medicine and health, which have skill short­ages, also are look­ing at how longer univer­sity place­ments can help en­cour­age stu­dents into coun­try jobs as well as pro­vide stu­dents with in­for­ma­tion on how it can help their ca­reers.

‘‘ What (the par­tic­i­pants) have re­ported to me is that it’s given them a much greater sense of what it means to be a teacher,’’ Prof Halsey says.

Leigh Rayner last year re­lo­cated his wife and young child to Lox­ton so he could teach at the lo­cal high school as part of the ERPP.

‘‘ I guess my ini­tial thought (about the ERPP) was it would be more work ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ he says.

‘‘ But I like the coun­try, in terms of the re­la­tion­ships you can build so­cially and the in­volve­ment with kids both in­side and out­side of the school.’’

Picture: Chris Man­gan

RU­RAL PLAN: Ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent Leigh Rayner at Flin­ders Univer­sity.

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