Big dreams key to keeping kids in the bush

·2-min read

Don't let country kids stop dreaming.

Education and health experts say that should be the basis of policies to help rural children achieve their ambitions to work and live well in regional Australia.

Duncan Taylor, the founder of Country Universities Centre, which establishes study centres in rural and remote areas, said the training sector needs to show primary school kids the potential of a career in the regions.

Mr Taylor said a school principal in rural Queensland told him country kids stop dreaming about their future before high school.

"That's a tragedy, but also a great thing for us to know," Mr Taylor told the Regional Australia Institute national summit in Canberra on Wednesday.

"When we talk about widening participation and achieving new goals, we need to start in years five and six."

Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth chief executive Penny Dakin said research shows country kids are increasingly worried about the viability of their future in the regions.

"We can't lose kids. By the time they've got to high school, it's too late, from a neuroscience perspective.

"It should be used as a slogan somewhere: 'Don't let them stop dreaming'."

The summit has heard from leaders in economics, health, education, arts and science about building prosperous country communities into the next decade.

Many of the discussions have emphasised providing high quality education in regional areas to keep professionals in the bush.

Peta Rutherford, the chief executive of the Rural Doctors Association, said healthcare workers can act as mentors for rural students.

"A lot of young doctors talk to us about that. It's about seeing it to believe it," Ms Rutherford said.

Rural clinical schools have had some success in keeping country students in the regions.

"When we support rural kids to go into medicine, and train them rurally, they're more likely to stay than people from the city."

But the medical training pipeline still needs work, as there are limited hospital internship placements in regional areas, she said.

In South Australia, there are more than 280 intern positions, but only 15 of them are available outside of Adelaide.

"Young doctors interested in rural are quickly pulled in a different direction because they get limited rural exposure in those formative years.

"So it's really important that doctors, nurses, carers, allied health professionals continue to be exposed to rural while they continue to make decisions around their career."