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There’s now a way for teachers to get their student debts wiped. Here’s how

KEY POINTS:
  • Tertiary loan debts will be scrapped for some teachers working in schools in remote Australia.
  • The schools include Indigenous and non-Indigenous schools.
  • The federal government says it hopes to expand the initiative to regional schools in the future.

Teachers who choose to spend time in rural schools will have their student debt wiped in a bid to cover shortages.

The federal government will clear HELP debt for those who stay four years in a “very remote location” at a primary or secondary school, daycare center, or preschool.

Eligible teachers will have either the debt of their initial teaching degree waived or whatever debt remains when they start the position, whichever is less.

The incentive will initially be open to teachers who have been in remote locations since 2019, meaning they get a head start.

It is expected it will save teachers an average of $35,000, with up to 2,000 of them likely be able to benefit immediately.

An additional 500 teachers would then become eligible each year. About 300 remote schools will benefit in total.

Scheme could be expanded to include regional schools

The places covered by the scheme are those defined as

including large parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and northwestern NSW.

Education Minister Jason Clare said on Thursday there was a serious

and it was worse in rural communities.

“Your impact is bigger. Your chance to shape and change and improve the lives of people is bigger,” he said of working in remote locations.

Communities with high Indigenous populations who are less likely to finish school and go to uni especially stand to gain.

“In a school like this, where 75 per cent of the kids are Indigenous, that really matters,” Mr Clare said announcing the policy in the outback NSW town of Menindee.

He said if the scheme works well it could be expanded to include regional schools in the future.

Call for long-term solutions

The Australian Education Union welcomed the initiative, saying the government needed to find long-term solutions to address the crisis.

“This is a significant move to address teacher shortages and will encourage teachers across the country to move to areas where schools need them the most,” union president Correna Haythorpe said.

The Association of Independent Schools of NT, which includes a number of remote Indigenous schools, said the initiative would help expand the pool of teachers to help address a

that is the worst it’s been in at least 20 years.

“We’re really feeling the teacher shortage in the Northern Territory,” the organisation’s executive director, Cheryl Salter, told SBS News.

“It is always hard to attract people from down south [of Australia] to work here, but we’re really feeling it this year. And COVID stopped a lot of international people looking at schools as an option

Ms Salter said there are certain qualities in teachers that are needed for them to be successful working in remote schools in the NT.

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“They need to have the willingness to learn the cultural competencies and responsiveness to work in these communities. You can learn it on the job, but you have to have the ability of openness to learn and work in the communities.

“Secondly, you also need the skillset to live remotely. It’s not easy living in some of these places – and it takes a special sort of person. Not just anyone is up to the task.”

Universities Australia also hailed the scheme, saying everyone deserved access to a good education.

“Encouraging more teachers to work in remote areas will ensure people living in those parts of our country can access the educational opportunities they deserve,” acting chief executive Peter Chesworth said.

Mr Chesworth said universities would continue to work with government, unions and industry to train the next generation of teachers.

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