Thursday, 31 May 2018

Rural education

is under the spotlight - again.
There is a call for city schools to stop "poaching" the best country teachers - again.
When the Senior Cat sees this report in this morning's paper he will groan and say, "Nothing has changed."
He should know. He worked in rural schools for most of his teaching career. 
I went to rural schools for most of my school life. They were not as good. They simply could not be as good. 
When I was a kitten my parents were offered a "two teacher" school. The Education Department was desperate for teachers at the time. My mother was one of those rare people not in full time employment, a qualified and certificated teacher. She had been doing some relieving or supply work but that meant my paternal grandmother had to care for the two youngest kittens who were not at school.  There was no such thing as day care. Anything like that meant not just my mother dropping everything but my grandmother too. On one occasion my mother took the class I was in for an entire week. It was not a happy experience for me.
But the Education Department clearly thought she was able (and she was a good teacher) so they offered my parents a school in a remote area. "Offer" I should say. The Senior Cat was informed he would be going there. It was considered "promotion" and it would only happen if his wife was willing to return to the workforce. I don't know what sort of discussions went on but I suspect my mother was happy to return to work. Middle Cat had started school by then. It was only Black Cat who, at just three, was not in school.
So we went. My parents spent two years teaching in that school and Black Cat wandered in and out of my mother's classroom for the first year before starting school at the age of four - when my mother discovered the brown snake a little too close to her youngest kitten for comfort.
The school had no amenities. (We had no running water or electricity to begin with.) My parents had to make every teaching aid they used. The Senior Cat stunned the local parents by arranging to borrow boxes of books each term from the Children's Country Lending Service. At the end of  his first year there he managed to persuade the parents to raise money to buy a "Fordograph" duplicating machine - simply because it was often too hot to use the "jelly" duplicating system.
My parents were considered good teachers. The Senior Cat had been working as a "demonstration" teacher - mentoring young student teachers. But, nothing could make up for the lack of facilities and the fact that my parents had to divide their time between different year levels. It did not make up for the fact that I had to go through the same lot of  history and geography that I had previously done simply because those things were taught to the entire group. 
We moved on after two years because the Senior Cat was given the task of setting up a new "area" school - a school where the students come in from outlying areas by bus. He was not only expected to do this but to teach English and maths. Yes, classes were "small" - around sixteen in number in my year - but work still had to be prepared. It also had to be prepared in a way that meant we could work alone while he did other essentials. The teachers he was allocated were young and inexperienced and needed a lot of help too.
My education continued rather like that. I was taught physics by someone who was literally one chapter ahead of us in the textbook and chemistry was not much better. I didn't want to do either subject but the "PEB" stream (think "O" level rather than GCSE) only catered for those subjects. You couldn't learn a language and I taught myself history. (The Senior Cat would set questions in the latter and mark them but it was up to me to learn how to answer them.) 
The schools lacked much in the way of facilities. They made up for them in a sort of community spirit where the older students cared for the younger students. My mother and all the other female teachers did "yard duty"  or playground supervision while knitting because there was so little actual supervision needed.
But in many ways it wasn't a good education and the Senior Cat knew that. He wanted teachers who were trained to teach the subjects they needed to teach. He wanted teachers who had experience who didn't need constant supervision and help. It wasn't laziness on his part at all. He wanted the best for the students and he was responsible for everything in a school that had children of five to teens of fifteen or more.
And some things have not changed. Teachers still feel isolated. Facilities still aren't as good.
And the students still aren't getting the education they need.

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