On a recent trip to Australia, we visited the town of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, to look at the original distance learning model known as School of the Air.
In the UK we take it for granted being able to make it to school every day as children, or to send our own children out to catch the school bus. In parts of Australia however the act of getting to the local school could represent a round trip of several thousand miles each day, something which isn’t very practical. This is where the School of the Air comes in.
Launched in 1951, the School of the Air is a distance learning classroom run out of a broadcast studio in Alice Springs, catering for children across central and northern Australia. Until recently the classes were run using CB radios, with children liaising with their tutors over wireless radio – very large pieces of equipment provided by the school. Now however technology has revolutionised the way the children are taught, with classes taking place over the internet, and children able to watch and interact with their tutors in real-time via bespoke software.
All of the equipment is provided, including the computers, software and even internet connection. All the students’ parents have to provide is a home tutor which, in many cases, is a parent or family member. The children ‘attend’ the classes each day on the internet, at set times, where they listen to, and watch, their tutors from their virtual classroom in Alice Springs. The students can ask questions using an instant chat messenger, and they can ask questions ‘in front’ of their other classmates via video over a webcam.
Despite being completely isolated and, in many cases, not seeing another child face-to-face for months, students of School of the Air can experience the social interaction other school children enjoy on a daily basis by virtue of the technology provided.
We found the experience of visiting School of the Air thoroughly rewarding seeing how, in some cases, second and third generation members of the same family were attending the virtual school. It really brought home the power of distance learning, and showed that no matter where you are, or what else you have in your life, there is always time to study and learn new skills because of the technology we have today.
The methodologies used by the School of the Air in Australia are similar to those applied here at the Online Learning Academy. We combine distance learning and home study, with tutor support and online tests to ensure our students receive the best tuition in their chosen subjects. It doesn’t matter where you are, or even what device you’re using, you just need an internet connection and a computer, tablet or even a smartphone.
You can find out more about School of the Air, and the great work they do to enrich the lives of children across Australia, at their website www.assoa.nt.edu.au.