Schooling children in remote Australia
Have you ever wondered how children living in remote Australia complete their schooling when they don’t leave their family behind, travelling far away to attend boarding school? For many, it’s School of the Air.
Queensland’s first School of the Air opened in 1960 in Cloncurry. Today, there are seven schools of distance education operating across the state: Mount Isa, Cairns, Charleville, Capricornia, Longreach, Charters Towers and Brisbane. Road Muster recently dropped in to visit the Mount Isa School of the Air (MISOTA).
MISOTA schools about 180 children from around 120 families, from E-Kindy to year 10, across an 800,000 square kilometre catchment area. If there was ever an example of why the Sky Muster™ service is important, this is it.
Up until the late 90s, School of the Air lessons were conducted via high frequency radio. Despite technological advances, currently at MISOTA children do almost all their lessons over a modified telephone and presentations are of the PowerPoint variety, no skype or video capability.
If there is more than one child in the family, the home tutor needs to juggle the lesson timings to make sure everyone gets a go at using that one phone line to their house.
The home tutor is responsible for the daily delivery of the education program, supervision and guidance of students. Lessons and power point presentations are accessed via an online education portal, which is in the process of moving to a new system, as the current system requires monthly Java updates.
Now this might not be a big deal to people in the city as it only uses about 50 megabytes each update, but for remote families the update can take up to an hour, assuming they get no internet drop-outs.
Can you believe at the moment that children at MISOTA are being taught the violin via the telephone?
I don’t know about you, but when I learned the cello in year six it was hard enough with the music teacher right there in front of me – in fact I never got past plucking. Kids also have the opportunity to learn a variety of languages, including French, Italian and Japanese.
The local Scouts even come in once a week after 3pm to conduct their Scouts of the Air session. Imagine trying to work towards scouting badges via telephone!
The online education component has, until now, had to balance the fact that most families only had access to 20 gigabytes of data per month to run, for example, the farm, the schooling, and any personal online interactions, with download speeds often under 1Mbps.
The school itself was running on a download speed of 3Mbps until about six months ago, when it moved to 10/10Mbps. Despite this, because the lessons are predominantly delivered on audio – the 10/10mbps speeds are just fine for the time being.
Luke and his family live about four hours out of Mount Isa and they have just connected to the Sky Muster™ service. Ben, his son, told me it’s “heaps better” than it was before.*
The Sky Muster™ service has the potential to be a real game changer for many families and will help allow those educating these isolated children to do much more to not only teach them, but draw them together into a school unit.
Once more School of the Air families are on the Sky Muster™ service, MISOTA can move to audio and video online, and with nbn offering up to three additional dedicated 50G education ports per family there should no longer be a need to prioritise lessons based on only having one telephone line.
Everyone can be online at once without constant buffering, and instead of using a telephone, they can see and interact with their teacher and classmates.*
This will be a huge leap forward for all involved, just like the last leap from high frequency radio to telephony.
I know from talking to parents and teachers, they can’t wait!
nbn would like to thank MISOTA for showing us through their amazing facilities and for their commitment to educating remote Queensland children. For more information, go to mtisasde.eq.edu.au.
*Your experience including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn™ network depends on the technology over which services are delivered to your premises and some factors outside our control like your equipment quality, software, broadband plans, signal quality and how your service provider designs its network.