Book details rural education

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

A new book that gives a glimpse into the obstacles to education and the misperceptions faced by isolated rural communities tells of the hard road to improve the situation.

Leinster station owner and author of People Like Us, Kathy Boladeras, said before the formation of the Isolated Children's Parents' Association in WA in 1972, the delivery of education on remote properties mostly fell to the mother.

The book was launched at the Isolated Childen's Parents' Association conference in Fremantle last week, and contains a compilation of anecdotes from ICPA members past and present about their struggles to educate their children while living in remote areas.

Life member Margaret Hoare was invited to launch the book.

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Speaking to the _Countryman _after the launch, Mrs Boladeras said the mother was usually untrained and had to manage this onerous task on top her other duties as mother, housekeeper, gardener, nurse and bookkeeper.

"Correspondence lessons were provided by the WA Correspondence School, but these were seriously outdated and offered little stimulation," she said.

"School of the Air started in 1962 and although this decreased the isolation, there was still no support for children with learning difficulties, no financial assistance to pay for a governess to relieve the mother in the schoolroom or to help pay for boarding fees once children reached high school age.

"Air lessons on the radio in summer were disrupted by static due to sunspot activity, making it impossible to hear."

Mrs Boladeras said the breaking point came when drought hit the pastoral areas and families were unable to find the money for boarding fees.

"Meekatharra pastoralist Margaret Lacy heard of an organisation starting up in Bourke, NSW, and travelled to the first conference to find out more," she said.

"She was sufficiently convinced of its potential to return and form a branch in WA at Meekatharra, and others soon formed in Kalgoorlie, Yalgoo and the Gascoyne.

"Isolated parents were desperate for such a voice to represent their issues to governments."

Mrs Boladeras said Frances Smith, the inaugural secretary of the Meekatharra branch, equalled Mrs Lacy in her passion and determination to reach as many influential people as possible, pumping out hundreds of letters on her old typewriter on the kitchen table at her remote homestead.

Both women were forceful lobbyists, which they needed to be in the political climate that existed at that time.

"Many politicians were ignorant of the issues and held a view that 'you people choose to live out there, so you deal with it'. There was also a 'wealthy grazier' perception," she said.

Mrs Boladeras said these two women and those who followed, encountered many obstacles but never gave up.

They volunteered their time and spent many days away from their families and businesses to meet government ministers in the pursuit of improvements to isolated education.

The first breakthrough came in 1973 with the introduction of the Federal Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme, which meant families were now able to afford to send their high-school age children to boarding school.

In 1976, Mrs Lacy's dream of a facility in Perth where children with learning difficulties could board and receive support was realised with the opening of the Chidley Point Remedial Centre in Mosman Park."

"And as more branches formed around WA, the mantle of ICPA spread to include the farming areas, where the issues were a little different - school bus routes, student-teacher ratios, the closure of small rural schools and attracting teachers to the country, for example," she said.

Ms Boladeras said the struggle continued to be long and hard, but the gains had improved the quality of education delivery in rural and remote WA.

She said School of the Air students now had clear voice transmission and interactive lessons with their teachers and classmates via the internet; correspondence lessons were updated more frequently and were much more engaging; and teaching mothers had a lot of support.

There is a scheme where retired teachers volunteer their time and experience to live with isolated families and take on the teaching of the children for a period to give the parents some respite, school buses are air-conditioned and seatbelts are mandatory, and ICPA works with teaching universities to encourage graduates to the country.

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