Unique learning ‘hub’ draws student teachers from Melbourne to Ballarat region

A visionary program is attracting student teachers from Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Melbourne campus to its regional campus in Ballarat, for practical teaching experiences in nearby regional/rural/remote schools where they are needed.

The program, ‘Ballarat Hub’, was created by ACU Ballarat Deputy Head of School Education Dr Gretchen Geng who said practical experience in schools was a key component of the university’s education degrees.

“Practical experience in schools is critical to ensure the ‘classroom readiness’ of ACU’s future teachers,” Dr Geng said. “But when COVID-19 hit the world and Melbourne went into lockdown our city-based teaching students were unable find schools for their practical experiences.”

“Regional, remote and rural schools need top teachers too, however a lot of student teachers want to stay urban.

“This was contrasted with the fact that Victoria’s regions, including Ballarat, were not affected by lockdowns like the city. 

“I tapped into a real need by developing a four-week scholarship program, which included a weekly student allowance for groceries and transport and covered all student accommodation needs.

“The financial and accommodation support made Ballarat very attractive for Melbourne students seeking an enriched teaching experience in a regional/rural/remote setting.”

In Semester 1, 2021, the Ballarat Hub program awarded 10 scholarships to four female and six male high-performing secondary teaching students and developed information packs so students could develop locally based school activities.

“There’s a wonderful history to these towns and this was beautifully incorporated into lessons by ACU’s student teachers,” she said.

Dr Geng added that regional communities require a strong element of trust when welcoming newcomers to their small towns.

“Places like Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo have a very strong sense of community, unique cultures and different learning approaches and our scholarship recipients approached gaining the trust of these communities with great sensitivity.”

ACU Secondary (Media and Music) student teacher Marcus Ryan was a Ballarat Hub Scholarship recipient during the pilot and said, “My mentor teacher in my placement school was so supportive, and she was very open to me trying new things, and really getting in there and giving things a go. I really like the opportunity to be creative with my lessons.”

“I guess one of the benefits being here in Ballarat was that we were able to do face to face learning and it makes me consider working in a regional school.

“The resources provided by ACU were amazing, and the communication channel is really transparent and clear. Everyone knows what is expected of them”.

Another ACU Secondary (Music and Economics) student teacher scholarship recipient Jordan Cole commented on his placement in a rural school saying, “The one thing I was worried about most with this experience was how far away I would be from my normal support, like my friends and families….having people that were with me pretty much the whole time definitely put me at ease… definitely doing it alongside people in sort of like a smaller community.”

The completing students gained a certificate of completion and their professional development went towards course credits.

Dr Geng hopes that in future anyone wishing to learn regional education in Victoria will be attracted to ACU’s Ballarat Hub.

“I’d like people to view ACU’s Ballarat Campus as an important place of knowledge exchange,” she said.

ACU’s Ballarat Hub is extending its student teacher placement pilot this year. Previous ACU teaching students will act as mentors and train future scholarship recipients.

The scholarships are made possible in part due to funding from the Victorian State Department of Education and the Commonwealth Regional Funding Program.


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