Using the distinctiveness of ‘place’ to enrich learning is not a new idea. A Tasmanian school inspector, Richard Davis, in 1927 noted that ‘Their own playground, the neighbouring hills and level spaces, the coast line, the little stream and pool, the long and short days, the heat of summer and cold of winter, the wet wind and the dry one – are all starting points from which the child, with little assistance, can deduce and imagine great governing principles’. And another inspector, Amy Rowntree, in a 1925 report praised around 20 Tasmanian young women who possessed ‘that rare ability that unites free self-activity and delightful tone in the one schoolroom’. These teachers understood the value of care, the importance of engaging children’s interest and the power of clear explanations to children. They recognised ‘the art that lies in the presentation of a subject, the amount to present at one sitting, the method of approach, the need of the concrete, the urgency of brevity’. Re-imagining education can include being aware of and applying the wisdom of the past.

Nevertheless, transformative teachers of the 2020s and beyond also need a range of other qualities. They are inclusive and conscious of the individual learning needs of all students, not leaving behind kids from the back-blocks of our towns or the rural hinterlands; they are preparing students for a more globalised world and to navigate an information society where the internet can seem all-powerful; they are more aware of issues affecting young people’s physical and mental wellbeing (especially highlighted in recent COVID times); they embrace opportunities to partner with local Aboriginal people and organisations to share their wisdom and; they have high expectations for all of their students – unlocking their particular passions by providing varied and challenging learning experiences and opportunities. They make learning meaningful and memorable, including through the use of digital technology.

In thinking creatively about a vibrant future for our region, our teachers can nurture the re-imaginers and the skills required to undertake that re-imagining. They can inspire the future entrepreneurs, carers, creators, farmers, makers, tradies, professionals and other occupations and roles that we haven’t envisioned yet but which will inevitably emerge. There are common skills and qualities required to succeed in all of these roles including problem-solving, critical thinking, empathy, emotional intelligence and a capacity to work constructively with others. These things are practised and experienced daily in our schools. As a recent national declaration of the goals of Australian education puts it, young people will need ‘flexibility, resilience, creativity, and the ability and drive to keep on learning throughout their lives’. What future life-long learning looks and feels like across the Cradle Coast region is something to reflect upon as we look to lift a historical legacy of under-attainment and a culture (for some) that education stopped at the age of 16.

There are a range of future challenges for the region that our young people can engage with as the focus of their learning: How can STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) initiatives further bring smart solutions and innovation to our local agriculture and industries? How can an expanding tourism sector balance increasing visitation to our rich local landscapes with the imperatives of sustainable development at locations such as Cradle Mountain or the Tarkine? How can the Arts continue to be a source of local vibrancy and distinctiveness (as we have seen in Sheffield and Queenstown)? How can more visitors to the State be encouraged to turn right rather than left when they drive off ‘The Spirit of Tasmania’ (because we know that they are not going to be disappointed).  Our teachers and our students can be articulate advocates for our region.

The Cradle Coast region proudly grows its own teachers, some of whom go on to spread their wings elsewhere, but many of whom stay to give something back and make a difference locally. Each year at our graduation ceremonies in Burnie I am humbled by the accumulated professional expertise and idealism of our graduating cohort of beginning teachers. Invariably they have already been snapped up by local schools keen to harness their energy and enthusiasm. They won’t have all of the answers for re-envisioning our regional future, but they will be working with young people who will likely have some pretty good ideas and who they can help to point in the right direction.

 – Dr Peter Brett is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Tasmania, Cradle Coast Campus.