The time has come the walrus said....
The Esperance Community College ProjectJulie Bowden
Department of Education Services
Over the next 20 years, the whirlwind of change that characterises our lives today will increase. The trend to globalisation will intensify and the world will be highly competitive.... All Australians must have access to post secondary education and training opportunities if they are to participate fully in the life of the nation. (West Report, 1998)One of the most important phenomena of the 1990s is the increasing "globalisation" of the world economy. There is a clearly defined trend of increasing economic, industrial, technological and scientific interdependence among the world's economies. Australian education and training systems will play a critical role in developing those skills that unquestionably are being required to meet the demands of international competitiveness.
Education has a prime role in contributing to social progress and increasing prosperity and economic growth by assisting a population to be adaptable, flexible, well educated and attuned to the need for lifelong learning. Whilst the education systems and institutions have a collective responsibility for the quality of the learning experiences, communities must also share the responsibility for encouraging the development of collaborative learning pathways by fostering the spirit of cooperation between education and training providers. Education and training more than ever will need to be an ongoing process that inspires and encourages individuals to develop their capabilities to the highest potential so that they grow intellectually, have the necessary skills for work and can contribute effectively to society.
The region itself comprises the shires of Esperance, Ravensthorpe and Dundas with a combined population of 15,114 (1996 census). The geographical area is extensive, running from the WA/SA border on the Eyre Highway in the east to the boundary of the Shire of Jerramungup in the west and Coolgardie in the north. The principal industries of the region comprise agriculture and pastoral activity, tourism, fishing, and mining and the major towns are Esperance, Ravensthorpe and Norseman; with smaller centres at Condingup, Munglinup, Gibson, Grass Patch, Scaddan, Salmon Gums, Eucla, Hopetoun, Jerdacuttup and Cascades.
Support for the Esperance Community College project comes from traditional agencies such as Curtin University, the Western Australian Department of Training and the Education Department of Western Australia, as well as the Community of Esperance through its Service Clubs, Local Government Authority and various individuals as represented on the Esperance Community College Liaison Committee. Recognition by the people of Esperance of the need to provide a holistic approach to education, has been the primary driving force in the establishment of this College.
The concept of a community college is also supported at all three levels of government, as it is a realistic way of resourcing education in a small rural town located remotely from the capital city of the state. The guarantee of quality and availability of such an educational program can only be provided through a rationalisation and restructuring process to which all major systems contribute. Currently a strong relationship exists between the Esperance and Kalgoorlie Campuses of Curtin University and a comprehensive range of services are provided directly from the Goldfields. This enables support for development of courses relevant to the needs of the Esperance region, while utilising administrative infrastructure that has been established to service a larger VET and Tertiary Centre.
One of the first tasks of the Ministerial Project Group was to commission architects to draft a Master Plan Report (Spowers, December, 1996) which synthesised the existing facilities in Esperance with the vision for the new model of delivery into a concept plan for the College (1997-2010). In April 1997, the Minister's Project Group endorsed the plan and signed a Memorandum of Understanding which committed them to three significant objectives over the following twelve months:
In April 1998, a Strategic Plan was developed by representatives of the various partners to identify the goals, strategies and resources which would move the College from concept to reality. The need for a more detailed business plan which outlined capital and recurrent costs over the next three years became of paramount importance as each stakeholder endeavoured to come to terms with the level of commitment that adherence to the Strategic Plan implied. Architects were employed to develop the first detailed plans of the College.
In June 1998, the Minister's Project Group met to decide the extent of the College's development over the next triennium in context of Strategic and Business Plans. The Hon. Minister for Education, has subsequently travelled to Esperance to accept a cheque for $150,000 from the town's Rotary Clubs as their contribution towards the development of the College. This has provided the College Project with renewed momentum and confidence through a single symbolic gesture.
Universities, government agencies and industry have signalled an interest in this project which will increasingly encourage and attract further research and development relevant to the Esperance region and the education fraternity.
The Esperance Community College has attracted actual and pending funding from the Education Department of WA, The WA Department of Training, Curtin University of Technology, the Department of Commerce and Trade, the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, the Shire of Esperance, local Rotary Clubs and the Department of Education Services.
Four state and two federal ministers have involvement in the funding decisions made by the project. Despite this high level of involvement significant budgetary issues continue to arise. Issues such as:
In June 1998, some of the funding arrangements were confirmed, and on this basis it was determined the extent to which the project could proceed. This was a litmus test of the viability of the systems that were in place to enable and encourage diverse agencies and individuals to contribute to meeting the common goals through a shared understanding and commitment of their own limited resources.
When compared with the metropolitan area, the lower participation rate in country post secondary education and therefore in this region, means that in the early life of the College, there will be additional effort necessary to attract students to courses already being conducted in current disciplines. The problem of undertaking study within a course requiring relocation during its progression, is a severe handicap to many potential students.
The College will also bring together a diverse workforce which will operate under a variety of industrial agreements and awards. Each employee will be entering into an environment that will stretch the boundaries of their current job descriptions, introduce new lines of management and new forums for decision making and accountability. This will require renegotiation of contracts, reviewing of salary structures, rationalisation of duties and fundamental changes to the workplace itself. Duty of care to the children of the current senior high school is an issue that is of paramount concern when the College becomes a shared environment for both adults and children. Workers' compensation, insurance and liability in this new setting will expose each of the partners to risks and responsibilities which they have not as yet confronted. The employment of modern technology for educational service delivery and the implementation of flexible learning techniques to facilitate the delivery of education and training is yet to be negotiated. Course design and traditional teaching/lecturing methods will be subsumed by new developments in this area as will the way in which students of the future access their courses and programs of learning.
Other issues to be addressed:
Technology is the tool by which isolation can for the first be rendered inconsequential to these aspirations. But technology is expensive and in many cases unfocused on anything other than its own regeneration. There is a self seeking agenda for technology which has the potential to be dominated by the technology industry itself and bears little relationship to the needs of those who must use and pay for it. Technology infrastructure programs and policy must be guided by the needs of the community it serves and nowhere will this be more critical than in education and training in rural and remote areas of WA. Partnerships such as those being fostered with the Esperance Community College project are essential if this technology is harnessed in a cost effective, relevant and sustainable way.
Department of Education Services
Please cite as: Bowden, J. and Price, D. (1998). The time has come the walrus said....: The Esperance Community College Project. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Planning for Progress, Partnership and Profit. Proceedings EdTech'98. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech98/pubs/articles/bowden.html