From places as far as Wudinna in SA, Condobolin in western NSW, Nhulunbuy in NT, and Foster in Victoria, 15 rural and remote young Australians travelled to Albury/Wodonga on February 27 for three days to meet with Federal Ministers, education officials and key policy makers to share their thoughts on rural and remote education, as Rural Youth Ambassadors.

Last year, Harrison Garlick of Foster Secondary College was nominated and participated in the Victorian conference. This year, he represented Victoria in Albury.

“The opportunity was amazing. Raising the challenges we find in rural education, we each brought ideas, found solutions, and spoke with Ministers.” Harrison said.

“Three target areas were identified: Mental Health, Teachers and Learning Opportunities.”

Their solutions to these challenges included:

Mental Health: Supporting third-party counsellors; many parents hold mental health and counselling positions in schools in rural areas.

Teachers: Schools in rural areas sharing teachers. Introducing feedback surveys and creating greater incentives for teachers to work outside the major cities.

Learning Opportunities: Central location for rural students to connect online and explore post-school opportunities.

“We discovered a few websites readily available but they’re not engaging with students.

“We also explored a cluster model – for example, sharing teachers between Leongatha Secondary College and Mary MacKillop.”

A cluster model would allow students greater access to a wider variety of teacher with specialty fields.

For Harrison, the opportunity to listen to and create solutions has been an incredible opportunity.

“Hearing from kids, where they are from – it’s pretty insane and really interesting.

“(At the recent conference) a kid came from a huge farm in SA. His whole school was the size of others year levels.”

Whilst there are many similarities between students living rural, there are still many setbacks faced by some.

“We have good internet (in Gippsland); others don’t – facing challenges especially for online learning.

“Online learning and learning by correspondence were another two areas identified. There is a real benefit for students having face to face interaction with teachers, not all the time but sometimes.”

Whist in Albury ambassadors also had the opportunity to meet with a number of key Department of Education, Skills and Employment staff to explore the challenges they face and the innovative solutions that they have identified.

Among these key stakeholders were the Minister for Regional Education Senator the Honourable Bridget McKenzie (originally from Leongatha), Minister for Regional Services, the Honourable Fiona Nash, recently appointed Commissioner on Regional Education as well as Catherine Bennet from the

Regional Australia Institute and leaders from the National Career Institute.

“The Rural Youth Ambassadors should be immensely proud of the work they presented, speaking candidly and from the heart on issues unique to regional, rural and remote education.

“They presented an impressive range of ideas to improve education and experiences of kids in the country and I look forward to working with them further,” said the Hon Bridget McKenzie.

“To feel our voice was being heard and be an advocate for change – giving students more of a choice in their future. I’m very proud.” Harrison added.

Supported by Commonwealth Government and Department of Education Skills and Employment, the National Rural Youth Ambassadors Forum is the final outcome of a year-long leadership program delivered by the Country Education Partnership (CEP) throughout 2021 across South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and Victoria, and forms an essential part of the expanded Rural Inspire initiative.