Since Australia is such a vast continent, for some children living
in isolated areas, and in the outback, it’s not possible
for them to actually get in to school.
In order to ensure they
don’t miss out on their education, they rely on an interesting
alternative – a teacher over the radio. School of the Air
was the idea of Adelaide Miethke, an Adelaide schoolteacher. She
suggested using the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s radio network
for education purposes.
The first lesson was broadcast in 1950,
and the service has continued to expand to 12 Schools of the Air.
The teachers use HF (high frequency) radio to provide lessons. This
accompanies correspondence lessons that the teachers send to their
students through the mail, which the students work on at home for
5 to 6 hours a day.
Group lessons on the radio last for about half
an hour a day, with groups tending to be around 8 to 18 students.
In many ways, it works just like a ‘normal’ classroom – the
teacher explains a point, asks questions, and different students
give their responses. But in this ‘classroom’, each
participant could be several thousand kilometres apart!
The students have both advantages and disadvantages over their town-dwelling
peers. Whilst they don’t get much face-to-face interaction
with other young people, they grow up with access to far more space
and freedom than other youngsters.
They learn all about the techniques
for surviving in a potentially hostile environment, important
farming and animal husbandry techniques, and many also learn Aboriginal
lore and tradition.
The School of the Air adds to this broader
education, ensuring that young people living in the Outback
are able to relate to the outside world on an equal footing.
Into the future…
The first School of the Air was that in Alice Springs, which now
covers an area of over 1 million square kilometres, overlapping
the borders of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
Nowadays, as well as using the radio, students are also able to
access information and communication via newer technologies such
as email, computer links, video and the Internet.
This will doubtless
mean that the Schools of the Air continue to develop in order
to ensure that potentially isolated young people are included within
the school community of Australia.