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Rural areas, early childhood and success in school

Rural environments have a significant impact on a child’s education. This is due to a variety of financial and social pressures which make it harder for rural inhabitants to have the same quality of life as city-dwellers. In the case of children, living in the country can affect the kind of opportunities they have when it comes to education and employment, which strongly impacts their future.

Health and Behaviour

Growing up in a rural area can make it difficult for children and young people to access the same services and support as their counterparts in urban areas. Research has found that children in rural areas have increased health risks compared to the general population, such as being more likely to use tobacco. In addition to this, rural inhabitants have to travel a greater distance for healthcare services than those who live in the city. There are also impacts on behaviour growing up. It was found that 8.6% of small rural areas and 10.0% of large rural areas had children exhibiting forms of disruptive social behaviours. This corresponds to the finding that young people in rural areas have a greater difficulty in communicating with each other and found it challenging to maintain focus in their learning. This is also reinforced by the finding that children in rural areas aged 12 to 17 displayed a higher level of problem behaviours such as temper tantrums and defiance of authority figures. It’s important to note that these negative behaviours are in no way a reflection of the potential of these young people, but rather a product of living in challenging circumstances

Education and Learning

In recognising the impacts of rural environments on health and social behaviour, it’s understandable how children in rural environments have difficulty completing their education. Schooling is pivotal in allowing young people to create a better future for themselves and their community, but for rural students attending school is not always easy. Unlike urban areas, rural schools are very far and require long distance travel and bus rides. The distance it takes for a child to travel to school is a major challenge and could deter young people from finishing their education. On top of this, there are difficulties in sourcing quality teachers as many of them are unwilling to relocate to rural environments. Some sources even argue that teachers in rural areas often find themselves taking on extra roles in addition to teaching, such as possibly acting as bus driver, for example. This can put extra strain on existing teachers and deter quality educators from taking rural roles, ultimately diminishing the education received by children in these areas. Finally, rural areas often suffer from poor internet connection. This makes it harder for children to study, and also limits the education that teachers can provide to students.

Child Development 

So far the article has focused on negative impacts stemming from a rural environment, which is understandably disheartening to hear about. The good news is that there are a number of programs and services that have been found to increase connectivity and improve outcomes for young people in rural environments. In recognizing the importance of a child’s first few years, we can understand that giving young children a positive environment provides them with the opportunity to build a positive sense of self. This will not only help their own wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of those around them. This is reinforced through research finding that playtime is important in promoting physical, mental and social development. Furthermore it’s the simple actions that are refined through playtime that allows young children to develop a love for learning and encourage this action further. 

Importance of Playgroups 

Maintaining this focus on early years we can consider how collective programs such as playgroups can be useful for improving educational outcomes in rural areas. Playgroups provide many benefits to children, parents and the wider community. Families can use playgroups to meet and provide support to one another, while children learn how to build connections and strengthen their communication skills. The early years in fact have a strong correlation to school performance. Young children need to develop the skills necessary to not only transition to a school environment, but also to be able to enhance their learning environment. Research demonstrates the importance of rural children attending playgroups before transitioning to school, with 82% of children who attended playgroups experiencing a better transition to primary school than those who didn’t attend. 

Another important benefit of playgroups lies in their facilitation of peer-to-peer communication among the young children who attend. Building strong social skills at a young age can improve the relationships they build with other peers, friends and family when they get older, which has positive results for both students and their community. This is particularly important for rural areas, where residents may have to depend on their social relationships due to limited access to public services and resources. 

It’s clear that community-focused groups can positively improve social and educational outcomes for children and their families. The challenge lies in ensuring sufficient support from early childhood all the way to young adulthood and beyond. With the current lack of support for rural families many people move to urban areas for hopes of better education and work opportunities. Over time this depletes rural communities of some of their most valued and important members, and does little to improve conditions for those who stay. Improving education is a key way to tackle this issue. With better support and improved opportunities young people will be incentivised to remain in their rural area and contribute to making it better for the next generation. 

This article has highlighted the links between early childhood and schooling, and how these have powerful impacts on the broader community. We can now see the importance of building educational environments that encourage open spaced learning and opportunities to further develop social skills for the long run. Sadly, not enough is being done to improve the quality of education in rural areas. Schooling in these areas increases employment opportunities as well as the rural labour force, making education vital for improving the quality of life for the next generation of residents. Education is not just about teaching Maths and English, although these are important, but rather about developing communities to make them safer and more sustainable.

You can make a difference for rural students by donating to Nhuubala Yugal Education Centre, a Moree-based organisation focused on encouraging and growing the importance of education for disadvantaged students in rural environments. We want to ensure every student gets an opportunity to gain quality learning. If you would like to support our mission, please consider donating here. Each donation goes a long way to supporting the education of rural students and making sure that every child can gain quality education. 

By Jenny Lam


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