Greenhouse effect blights learning
Global warming is believed to be the main cause of the drought that has hit large areas of the eastern states of Australia for decades.
Researchers at Charles Sturt university in rural New South Wales reported that the drought has had a significant effect on children's access to all levels of schooling, from primary to tertiary education.
Professor Margaret Alston and Dr Jenny Kent said children in drought-affected regions had witnessed the stresses on their families as farms were threatened, experienced loss of friends from school as families move off unprofitable land, were often forced to study by distance education and faced uncertainties in their future. Those who are home-schooled suffer as many mothers find they have no time to school their children because of extra work on the farm.
Young people on farms were more likely to be working long hours outside school and sometimes missing classes to help their parents. Those in rural towns were also working in part-time jobs to help with their own education.
"We found boys are more likely to leave school early and the limited availability of (technical colleges) in the communities highlights an enhanced role for vocational training in schools," the researchers said in a report of their study.
Their report was based on in-depth interviews with students, their families, teachers as well as business, community and government representatives in seven rural and remote sites in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
The researchers identified key issues they said had to be addressed to ensure equality in educational access for young people in rural Australia.
These included providing annual grants of $8,000 (pound;3,390) to students to help families overcome the financial burden of education. Students who had to leave home for tertiary education should automatically be eligible for the federal government's youth allowance.
The researchers said assistance should also be provided to mothers in remote areas to assist them deliver quality education through home tutoring.
They called for a summit involving government agencies and community groups to discuss rural and remote education in Australia's drought-affected regions.