Digital revolution or digital divide: Will rural teachers get a piece of the professional development pie?
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In order to sustain the rural education community, access to high quality professional development opportunities must become a priority. Teachers in rural areas face many challenges in order to access professional learning equitable to their city counterparts. In the current climate, the Federal government of Australia is committed to initiatives that support the use of ICT in education. These include initiatives such as the Digital Education Revolution, including the National Broadband Network. This "revolution" includes the committal of $2.2 billion funding over six years from 2008 - 2013 which purports to bring substantial and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools. Of this funding, the Prime Minister (former Minister for Education), Julia Gillard, has committed $40 million of the total budget to ICT related professional development for teachers. But how will rural teachers ensure they get a piece of the PD pie? Access to professional learning is critical and isolation from colleagues, professional associations and support structures can affect the retention of teachers and in turn affect the sustainability of rural communities.This research paper describes the findings of the first phase of a study that investigates access to professional learning from rural and remote areas of Western Australia, the efficiencies of this approach including teacher perceptions and possible opportunities for improvement through the application of technologies. A survey instrument was administered and the results from104 principals and teachers within the Remote Teaching Service and the Country Teaching Program of the Department of Education and Training (WA) are discussed. Qualitative data was collected by semi-structured interviews and emailed questionnaires. Phase One findings highlight the principals and teachers? perceptions of their access to professional development opportunities, professional learning communities and their use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to bridge the gap.
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