Survival is the reason it is critically important to put rural, regional, remote Australia in the centre of our thinking and actions

Investing in Young People

Did you know ( I didn’t) if young people in rural, regional and remote (RRR) Australia had the same education opportunities as young people in urban environments we could increase the value of our GDP by a whopping 50 billion dollars 

I am currently working on a large funding application that will allow  Action for Agriculture to deliver their programs that empower young people to solve tomorrow’s problems today to clusters of schools in rural, regional and remote Australia.

The ability to deliver to clusters of schools is important because

  • It values the time as well as the expertise of our Young Farming Champions who are both role models, mentors and program facilitators for students
  • It values the combined expertise of teachers in RRR.

Our teachers are a highly undervalued cohort. If teachers feel undervalued its because they are.

In urban schools large numbers of teachers are being asked to teach subjects they haven’t been trained to teach. In fact 50% of geography teachers are history trained. In RRR that becomes a nightmare where they are required to teach multiple subjects to multiple year levels. 

Below is an extract from Professor John Halsey’s  Independent Review into Rural Regional and Remote Education report.  Its a beautifully written and sobering report and a great call to action. Young people in RRR deserve better. RRR deserves better.

So why is it so critically important to put RRR (rural, regional, remote) in the centre of our thinking and actions at all levels of government, in the private sector, and in the social and cultural life of our country?

In a word, survival!

By the year 2050 the world’s population is expected to reach 9.8 billion (United Nations, 2017). For Australia, this means a population of around 35 million and, as we know, there is much debate about how robust this figure is and whether or not a bigger population will turn out to be ‘a good thing or a bad thing or….’ (Parliament of Australia Website, n.d).

Consider just four facts.

  1. The majority of the food consumed daily in the world, and particularly in the developed world, is produced in RRR areas. Accessing food is already a major problem for nearly a billion people in developing countries. It is also a problem for many in developed countries. The food security of Australia, and the world more widely, is a critical issue and one that we cannot take for granted. Producing food, even if in many instances it has ‘gone the way of high tech’, requires enormous numbers of highly skilled and semi-skilled workers. As Pretty (2002) argues:

Without food, we are clearly nothing. It is not a lifestyle or add-on fashion statement. The choices we make about food affect both us, intrinsically, and nature, extrinsically. In effect, we eat the view and consume the landscape. Nature is amended and reshaped through our connections—both for good and bad (p.11).

2. Secondly, much of the world’s energy is sourced from rural and remote regions and many of the world’s fresh water supplies have their headwaters in rural locations and traverse substantial rural landscapes. In Western countries, between two and five thousand litres of water are used to produce the daily food for a single person (Arthus-Bertrand, 2009, p.134).

3. Thirdly, there is the profoundly important matter of arresting the decline of the natural environment, which includes the effects of climate change, and developing new paradigms for valuing it so that it, in turn, can do what it has always done—sustain life in all its complexity and diversity. To quote Pretty (2002) again:

…an intimate connection to nature is both a basic right and a basic necessity…we have shaped nature, and it has shaped us, and we are an emergent property of this relationship. We cannot simply act as if we are separate. If we do so, we simply recreate the wasteland inside of ourselves (pp.10-11).

4. Fourthly, there is the issue of maintaining territorial security. It is worth reflecting upon how the land mass of a nation will remain secured, as we move into a future with rising pressure on space for human habitation and all the requirements for progressing and sustaining it. Maintaining a purposeful presence in our RRR spaces and places is a ‘soft’ but significant contribution towards national security.

While these facts reflect traditional roles and origins of RRR communities, they are also relevant to employment, innovation and the future–and all are underpinned by education and training.

The national results profile of non-urban students clearly shows there is a significant gap to be made up.

The cost of inaction

Major differences in achievements and successful post school pathways between urban and rural, regional and remote children and young people, have persisted for decades (Review Discussion Paper, 2017, pp 15-18).

Given how much debate continues to swirl around funding for education, it is instructive to consider some outcomes relating to the cost of inaction, of not working to bridge the divide between rural, regional and remote educational opportunities and achievements and those in urban centres.

  • Firstly, research shows that people not in full-time work or study by age 24 and who continue in this way over a 40-year period, produce a cost impact on society of around $412,000 per person. The total fiscal and social cost of a lifetime of disengagement is $69.3 billion, using 2014 figures of 45,700 people (Lamb and Huo, 2017). This amount represents about 15% of all of the Australian Government budgeted expenditure for 2016‑17 (
  • In a similar vein, it is well documented that one consequence of young people becoming disengaged from education before they complete their schooling is a greater propensity for them to drift into crime and then becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. The financial costs associated with this far exceed those of providing a ‘top quality’ education and there are major social implications and costs as well (Halsey & Deegan, 2015).

If for no other reason, education which fully engages young people and nurtures and builds their capacities throughout their formative years is a very sound investment; one which is repaid many times over during a lifetime.

I have learnt a great deal putting this application together and I am very grateful to the people and organisations I have listed below  for sharing the research with me 

Thank you to 

Dr Cameron Archer for directing me the Halsey Report

Kris Beasley Principal Centre of Agricultural Excellence

Lorraine Chaffer – NSW/ACT Geography Teachers Association

Gonski Education Centre at UNSW who read my mind brilliantly

Kira Jean Clark Regional Skills Investment Strategy Project Coordinator at Cassowary Coast Regional Council

Queensland Government who has done some fabulous work on government’s role in preparing us for the Future of Work

Young Farming Champion and agribusiness lawyer Meg Rice and journalist Mandy McKeesick synthesizers of research extraordinaire

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

%d bloggers like this: