The new Master of Education (Leadership and Management) degree offers valuable career and professional advancement to current and aspiring educational leaders from country schools as far away as outback Queensland, to rural Victoria, to South Australia’s Riverland and the South-East.
Rural education is a vast undertaking, says course coordinator Professor John Halsey.
More than 4,000 Australian schools are located in rural, regional and remote locations, and educate almost 30% of all students.
Country schools, the life-blood of most regional communities, require dedicated leaders with relevant and specialist knowledge and skills, says the Professor of Rural Education and Communities at Flinders’ School of Education.
“People living, working and raising families in rural, regional and remote places are essential to Australia having vibrant productive country communities,” Professor Halsey says.
“People need local access to affordable high-quality education and training along with other basic human services like health.
“And critical to ensuring this, in addition to state and national policies which are strong and supportive, are educational leaders who are committed and specifically prepared for a rural career.”
One of the first round of graduates, Our Lady of our River Primary School principal Mrs Ros Oates, has taught at small Catholic schools since graduating in education from Flinders University in her early 20s.
She says the master degree program has helped her to build on her classroom and administrative skills at the helm of the Berri school with 115 students, 19 staff and six classes.
“I was probably fast-tracked into leadership, and I feel like I’ve become a stronger leader after completing the course,” Mrs Oates says.
“Having come from a rural background, you tend to be a lot more creative with your thinking because you’re always looking at ways to give your students the same opportunities kids have in the cities.”
The master course has connected her with other school leaders throughout Australia, where she has been able to share the benefit technology is having in opening up new educational opportunities for Our Lady of the River.
“We were unable to attract a LOTE (language other than English) teacher, so we trialled a program that connected our students with a tutor in China,” she says, adding a new parent next year speaks Mandarin so the experience will help build the school’s contact with the language.
“Beijing is just a three-hour time difference, so once a week we ‘go live’ with a tutor in China which is very exciting for our students and teachers.”
The postgraduate course, the first of its kind in Australia, was launched in 2014 after extensive research by Professor Halsey and colleagues identified the many challenges facing school leaders in regional Australia.
The course is based upon national research and extensive practitioner input which acknowledges that rural educational leadership requires specialised study in order to build relevant professional capacity, knowledge and skills.
It uses a combination of online and face-to-face modes tailored to meet the professional and personal life of each student. The major investigation to complete the degree matches each student’s particular interests or circumstances.
Origin Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Origin Energy, funded the first cohort of principals and will continue to be a partner in the program from 2017 as part of its commitment to build capability in regional and rural communities.
Origin Foundation spokesman Sean Barrett says principals who gain their Rural Masters degrees will have additional skills to make their schools as successful as possible.
“We want all children to have the same opportunities, but according to research children in regional and rural communities are not performing at the same level as those in metropolitan Australia,” Mr Barrett says.
“One way to tackle this is to make sure that schools in regional and rural communities have the best principals. Principals in these communities have greater and different challenges to those in cities.”
Degree studies cover managing innovation and developing people in organisations and planning change, as well as engaging with fellow educational leaders around some of the demanding challenges facing rural educational leaders, such as the education of children with specific learning needs, managing finances and designing individualised curricula.
Eligibility for the Rural Masters is a four-year Education/Teaching degree or equivalent and not less than two years of work experience in an organisation.
Selection for the degree is done in collaboration with an applicant’s employing authority.
Current and aspiring rural educational leaders are invited to contact the course coordinator, Professor John Halsey at Flinders University, on email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the course and their interest in enrolment.
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