Increase in assistance for isolated children urgently needed

Increase in assistance for isolated children urgently needed


Opinion: In this week's The Gauge Gillian Fennell writes about children and education


Opinion | The Gauge

I know my last column was also about children and education in rural and remote Australia, but let's be clear why. It's kind of a big deal.

Recently the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia called for tax deductions to help support families who need to send their children to boarding school. The comments made by the general population on the ABC News article were enough to make any sane person living west of the Great Divide pack up and leave the country.

There needs to be an acknowledgement from the general public and the government that if Australia wishes to continue to produce top quality food and fibre for domestic and overseas consumption, more needs to be done to support the people who live in the regions.

Not just the farmers, as so many are wont to say, but everyone who contributes to the economic prosperity of this wide brown land.

Our urban counterparts are quick to call for increased funding and support for their education system, yet when we want equity for our children we see comments like this on social media.

"A big fat no! And start discussing who owns the water coming down the rivers or not. Homeschool and let them work on the farm because a lot of those grazier kids look like they need exercise." (yes, that's a real quote from a real person).

An education is more than the 3 r's. Social skills, life skills, music, art, drama, sport and physical education - none of these can be delivered adequately through distance education (trust me I've tried).

The agriculture industry invests hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in leadership and capacity building programs to grow and encourage future leaders.

Imagine if our government took a similar approach to secondary education in the regions?

Recruitment and retention of skilled and dedicated staff in rural and regional areas would improve. Currently we lose so many good families who return to the city when their kids reach secondary school age simply because they cannot afford the cost of an education.

All the big announcements, conferences, drought envoys and parliamentary committees won't change a thing unless the basics are addressed.

Even now, in what has been described as a "drought like no other" there has been no specific support from the Federal Government for education expenses for regional families.

Instead, families have been reaching out to charities such as the Country Women's Association to get assistance for school fees, uniforms and travel expenses. And with no end in sight to the current drought conditions, this situation is only going to get worse.

The lack of equity for rural students and their families has gone on long enough. An increase in the Assistance for Isolated Children's payment that provides a modicum of assistance is needed urgently to address the real cost of rural education.

And really, it's the least that the government can do.

- Gillian Fennell lives with her family on a remote beef property in outback South Australia. You can follow Gillian on Twitter @stationmum101

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The story Increase in assistance for isolated children urgently needed first appeared on Farm Online.


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