Imagine making a speech in parliament! Johanna Baker Dowdell was on hand to listen to high school students across Australia compete in the My First Speech competition. This event, run by the Department of the House of Representatives, challenges students to imagine themselves as a newly elected Member of Parliament to write and deliver a speech on an issue that they are passionate about.
Some of my earliest memories of reading are from the collection of Little Golden Books we had at home, along with Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Magic Pudding and an old musty collection of Greek myths and legends that I adored.
Reading was an activity I loved from an early age and it still gives me great pleasure now. However, it was when I went to school that my eyes were opened to the wider benefits of reading, and indeed education in general.
My new role as a federal electorate officer within the Senate necessitates regular visits to Parliament House. It was during one of these trips that I came across some high school students with very bright futures participating in the My First Speech competition. Be inspired by these young Australians and listen to their speeches.
Tasmanian entrant, Clara Kim from Taroona High School in Kingston, placed third with her passionate speech about how the government could increase access to education in Australia’s rural and regional areas. l
As Clara pointed out in her speech, “from the moment we wake up, the life of students living in rural and regional areas differs vastly”.
She went on to illustrate how Australian education is a “one-size-fits-all system, where we try to make rural students more like their urban peers, when we know their circumstances are vastly different”.
The government keeps committing to investing billions and billions of dollars into rural and regional education, but this particular homogenous fix has been around since the 1960s and “the problems with rural educational opportunities still remain unchanged”.
“Instead, we need to take a different approach – create a system where we can provide different working solutions tailored to specific communities,” Clara suggested.
Clara proposed a partnership between schools and their community that would work to overcome the unique obstacles that hindered the educational opportunities in that rural area or region.
For example, schools could collaborate with businesses to create transition plans and run career workshops to help students gain the skills they need for relevant rural careers; locally resourced scholarships to help the disadvantaged within the community; or culturally responsive strategies aligned with traditions and cultural value to bridge the disconnection between education and rural indigenous life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“School-community partnership allows just that. It can provide so many effective working solutions tailored to specific communities, instead of having one over-arching solution,” Clara said.
She finished by saying, “the government should develop unique ways to improve educational opportunities on the basis of community partnership because, as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to build a school”.
Tailoring education for individual communities would need an overhaul of our educational system, which cannot be taken lightly. However, I think what Clara’s thinking illustrates is that the idea of there being more beyond our own limited experience starts with the quest for knowledge that books feed.
Johanna is a media and communications officer, journalist and author of the book Business & Baby on Board.