Country Schools


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (11:29): I move:

That this house—

(a)notes the importance of schools to country towns; and

(b)recognises the extremely valuable contributions that the school staff make to both the education of local students and their communities more broadly.

This house knows that this is a topic very close to my heart, both in my electorate of Stuart and my interest in education and regional development more broadly. I will start by saying that I am really talking about, in my mind, the small schools and the small towns. This is not to exclude Port Augusta in any way—and I recognise that there are five primary schools, a secondary school, Caritas College, and also very importantly, School of the Air based in Port Augusta—but I am really focused on the small towns throughout the electorate of Stuart.

For the benefit of the house, let me just advise members that, in Stuart, towns that have both a primary and a high school or a combination of both in the same school are: Eudunda with an area school and also St John's Primary School; Jamestown with an area school and also St James Primary School; Peterborough with a primary and a high school and also St Joseph's; Burra has a district school; Booleroo Centre has a district school; Leigh Creek has an area school; Orroroo has an area school; and also Kapunda has a high school and a primary school. It is worth pointing out that Kapunda is an absolutely beautiful campus built around Sir Sidney Kidman's original home named Eringa. A beautiful place—

The Hon. G. Portolesi interjecting:

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, it was a pleasure to be there for the unveiling of the upgrading of that facility with the former minister for education. It was fantastic. I will just delve down a little more deeply, because the real spirit of this motion is about the really small towns that have really small schools. Let me tell you, just in the electorate of Stuart alone, these towns have primary schools only: Cadell, Blanchetown, Morgan, Melrose, Wilmington, Robertstown, Farrell Flat, Truro, Spalding, Marree, Port Germein and Yunta. Every one of those schools is exceptionally important to the life of those towns.

There are also, of course, very importantly, many pre-schools scattered around the electorate and scattered all around regional South Australia and they make an incredibly important contribution, as well. What I am really trying to get at here is the fact that there are obviously educational outcomes and benefits. That goes without saying. That is their primary purpose for being there, but these schools contribute so much more. They contribute so much more to the communities in which they are based.

When I talk about educational outcomes, I am talking about both academic—the straightforward reading, writing, arithmetic and other things that we would think of—and also trade training. An enormous number of high schools, obviously, do trade training. There is a lot of effort that goes into providing the right type of education to the range of students at these schools, and they are incredibly important.

A good example of that is the Booleroo District School, which is very close to Wilmington where I live. Two years ago, a student named Justin Clarke was an absolutely star student academically. He is actually up in Brisbane playing football with the Brisbane Lions at the moment. He is a genuine all-rounder, but very strong academically. Last year, a student named Alastair Keller was the Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year. It is an extraordinary achievement for both lads, extraordinary for that school, and extraordinary to have one academic star one year and one Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year the next.

This is the sort of thing that schools throughout the electorate and throughout regional South Australia strive for. I think that is really important, but the benefits are far broader than just the academic or the trade training benefits. There are social benefits, health benefits, sport benefits, local pride, community identity and economic benefits. These schools do much, much, more than just teach the students; they really are the lifeblood of the towns in which they are based.




I have a very simple view on that front, which can be described quite easily. If a town loses its school, it will very shortly lose its pub, its general store and its service station, because there is no reason for the community either in that town or surrounding that town to go into that town every single day to take the kids to school. What is even worse is if the school closes, guess what: not only will they not be going to that town, but they will actually be going to a different town to take their kids to school. The other town will benefit—and I never begrudge them that—but the first town is really going to suffer. So, these schools are incredibly important.

I bring to the attention of the house a report that was done for me by Ms Alexandra Grigg, an Adelaide University student doing an internship in the program that Professor Clem Macintyre runs. She did some excellent work for me. The work I asked her to do was very much on the basis of the contribution that state government facilities—like transport and education, sport and health facilities, etc.—make to regional South Australia over and above their primary purpose for being, like education, health, sport and transport. I will read something from Ms Grigg's report, specifically about educational facilities:

Educational facilities in rural South Australian communities have a number of social benefits including community contribution, the development of support networks, social interaction and the increased use of other local facilities and services. As a result, educational institutions provide regional towns with both economic and social welfare multipliers.

She goes on to say that, determined by educational facilities, the economic multiplier effects are increased job opportunities, increased economic opportunities and increased real median income. The social welfare multiplier effects include community identity, increased safety, increased support networks, increased volunteer participation and increased social interaction. These things would be incredibly important anywhere and I am sure are just as important in the city as in the country, but they are much harder to access in the country in small towns.

Ms Grigg goes on to say, 'Additionally, educational facilities in a regional South Australian town significantly decrease crime rates by 22 per cent.' That is a significant benefit directly related to having an educational facility in your regional town. One more statistic I would like to comment on here is that Ms Grigg identifies educational facilities as being the second most important facility contribution to community strength and capacity after transport facilities. So, after transport infrastructure and services comes education. I think that is very important as well. I share those things with the house because I think they are incredibly important.

I recognise that education and schools are just as important in the city and I have no hesitation about that whatsoever, but I say again that these benefits are much harder to come across in regional South Australia than they are in the city where you have a bigger pool of people to draw upon, a bigger pool of services and facilities to access and a far wider range of activities that people can participate in.

I say a very strong and loud thank you to the families who participate in these schools, the governing councils, the teachers, the principals, the other staff who get very involved in these schools in country towns and the friends of the schools. It is worth spending a little bit of time concentrating on that too, because there are many people who contribute to schools throughout our state who actually have no official role. They are certainly sanctioned by the school and by the school community, but they are people who just come and do some extra grounds maintenance or some extra contribution in a classroom, or they might just provide a one-off or even an annual or perpetual prize for a student who excels in a certain area. I can think of people throughout the electorate of Stuart who do that on a regular basis.

I will also comment on the role of Department for Education and Child Development staff in regions, because I think it is fair to say that they are probably under a bit more pressure than they would be in the city. In the city they can go to their job, do the work that they do within their department and within the education system and then they can go home and very quickly separate themselves from that work. However, if you live in a major regional centre or if you live in a small country town, as some people who work in DECD that I know do, they are under even more pressure, because they leave their office and their work and they go home, and they are in that school community immediately. They go to the pub and they are there with mothers and fathers, or children playing in the pub, or outside, as often happens. They go to the football and they are there with that same community. It is worth recognising that they are under a bit of extra pressure when it comes to the roles that they play.

As I said previously, I recognise that these contributions would be made by people in the city. No doubt, there are people who contribute to the schools very significantly, but I say unashamedly that their contribution, I think, is far more valuable in the country because you have a far smaller pool of




people to draw on and, also, you have an opportunity for your contribution to have far more impact in a small community as well. I genuinely say thank you to all of those people.

I would also like to say a few words about country towns and the interaction between children, adults, middle-aged people and elderly people and why these schools are so important. I lived in Adelaide before I moved to Pimba a long time ago—about 15 years ago. I lived there for seven years and then moved to Wilmington about eight years ago. One of the things that struck me immediately in Wilmington is that every single person in the community has an identity, and that includes a two-year-old child.

It includes a five-year-old child who might be walking down the street, perhaps going to school or to the shop, or from one house to another. When an adult passes that child, the adult says, 'Hello Bill', 'Hello Jenny,' or 'Hello Sarah,' whatever it happens to be, and, very often, that child says, 'Hello, Mr Johnson,' or, 'Hello Aunty Sally,' or whatever it might be. That does not happen to nearly the same extent in the city.

That is just one example of the benefits and opportunities that we have living in small country towns, but it does support why the schools are so important because, not only is the child an identity and a person in their own right at the school and on the school campus, but also the child is a person and an identify within the community more broadly. As that child grows up, that child retains that identity. It grows into it as it picks up more experience, a reputation and respect, no doubt, as time goes on; but that person retains that identity.

I remember going to the Wilmington pub shortly after moving there and seeing many families with three generations of people. The pub is just a small microcosm of the world in a country town, but they did not go there together. The grandson and daughter, the father or mother, and the grandfather or grandmother went there to see their own friends of their own generation and they were in different parts of the hotel, and they all acknowledged each other as friends just as they would anybody else.

But the issue is: if we lose these small schools in country towns, we will lose that fabric in country towns because, if the school is not there, the children are not there, the families are not there, the grandparents do not stay there and then all of these other things that I have talked about in country towns that make them so special, that make them interact so well and that make the people so supportive of each other, will not be there either.

We are incredibly lucky in small country towns in South Australia to have this sort of social makeup. It is not perfect. None of us is perfect. No town is without its problems. But, in this way, they are absolutely outstanding, in my opinion, and having a school in a town is incredibly important. It is fundamental to keeping together that social fabric and having that community adhere and interact the way they do.

For those reasons, and many others, including the economic multipliers and the research that Ms Grigg did for me which supports the theories and the things that I know and see and live and breathe every day anecdotally, I am incredibly supportive of these schools and I thank all the people—the teachers, the staff, the families and everybody involved—who support those schools and allows them to survive.


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