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Shining a light on the value of Remote Education Tutors

Helping students learning in geographically isolated areas

The school year may be nearly over, but for one group of educators, there’s no Christmas holidays or down time – they simply change job titles.

A University of Southern Queensland research team is shining a light on the under-recognised conduit between the School of Distance Education and students learning in geographically isolated areas – Remote Education Tutors (RETs).

A national survey by University of Southern Queensland academics has identified that the role of RETs in Australia is almost 100 per cent undertaken by females ranging in age from 20 to 50 years - mainly Mum’s and governesses.

USQ School of Education researcher Dr Karen Peel said whilst the majority of RETs do not have teaching credentials nor are studying to be a teacher, they were indisputably fulfilling an educator’s role.

“Despite this, there is no formal qualification available for RETs to pursue that is designed to specifically support them in their role,” Dr Peel said.

“This mandated supervisory responsibility is crucial for distance education students yet has received limited attention in the past with little available research literature to identify the specific roles of this occupation.

“Ensuring students are supported in the schoolroom comes at an economic cost to the geographically isolated families through the loss of opportunity of the immediate family member to earn an income, or alternatively, provide the salary and the living costs of employing a governess to assist in tutoring support.

“This creates a tension for geographically isolated families, as they seek an affordable and accessible education that is equitable to what is available to students who live within proximity to a school.”

As part of the Articulating the voices of Australian Geographically Isolated Remote Education Tutors research project, Dr Peel and fellow USQ researcher Dr Brad McLennan recently visited geographically isolated properties to interview eight RETs located in the heart of the Central Queensland beef industry.

“The cattle properties visited extended 90-minutes’ drive west of Springsure, all the way up to a 90-minute drive northwest of Clermont, and west to Jericho by air and by car,” Dr McLennan said.

“The participants engaged in a conversation about their distinctive experiences living and working with the children in the schoolroom on the property. The cornerstone of the conversations was their reflections about the rewards and challenges of their role.

“It’s anticipated that the findings from these interviews will result in a greater depth of understanding of the significance of the work of what RETs do, and this is critical in ensuring equality of education for students who are in locations where attendance to a local school is not an option.”

The third member of the research team, Professor Patrick Danaher, said although the data was yet to be formally analysed, the RETs interviewed all expressed the desire to have their occupation recognised by the general population.

“They also collectively voiced their support for the availability of professional learning and subsequent credentialing, and above all, voiced their passion for the part they play in developing children’s learning and expressed the rewarding nature of their work,” Professor Danaher said.

Dr Karen Peel said the research team was incredibly grateful to the participants who gave up their time and welcomed them into their homes to share their life experiences.

“One participant told us that the value of this research into the lives of RETs is emphasised by our preparedness to visit the properties and talk directly to RETs on the ground,” she said.

“This rural and remote research really demonstrates what can be achieved when respectful and trusting relationships are developed through industry and university networks.”

three people in regional town
Dr Karen Peel (L) and Dr Brad McLennan (R) visit Mrs Alana Moller at her property “Star of Hope” located west of Clermont.