The distance education challenge

Access to fast broadband has the potential to transform the lives of regional families struggling to keep up with rapid technological advancements in education.

Here at nbn, we continually stress the importance of bridging the digital divide between the bush and the city - it's a key element of why access to the nbn™ network is critical to Australia.

For a really long time, many Australians living in regional, rural and remote areas have not had adequate broadband to take advantage of everything that having good access to the internet offers.

As I travel around regional Queensland, I hear many complaints about how bad access to the internet is out there and we all know that our reliance on technology has increased.

With access to the nbn™ network, those living in  the country will be able to access services that people living in the middle of the city can get. But it’s a lot more than that.

Sure, being able to stream Netflix and have your whole family online at once is great, but many regional Australians are just looking forward to just getting fast internet access to do their banking, run their businesses, and educate their children.

You see, distance education has come a long way since the days of using the pedal-powered radio.

These days, students use portals, email, phone and web conferencing and a range of web-based interactive learning systems. 

And while distance education has jumped into the technological age, Australia’s infrastructure hasn’t kept up.

Put another way, the national curriculum has moved faster than the technology available to regional students, and these students are now at risk of being left behind.

So while we in the cities who don’t have access to the nbn™ network yet might complain about Netflix buffering, the sad fact is that in regional Australia families are being split up – with either mum and the kids moving to town and dad staying on the property, or the children being sent to boarding school. 

Many people wanting to study tertiary courses online are finding that without access to fast broadband, it’s very difficult to meet online requirements.

And children who do stay on the property often can’t access online lessons, or constantly suffer frustrating drop outs that cause disjointed online lessons.

Watch how regional students are making distance education work with the help of the nbn™ network

I’ve heard many stories about distance education students doing their schooling in cars, after their desperate parents have driven over rough roads just to be able to pick up mobile service as their connection at home drops out too much or they have no data left.

And then there are some families who have no internet at all.

Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) has documented the stories of some of these people. 

Kerry from South Australia drives her children an hour each way on a very rough dirt road to access the nearest primary school for her son and to use mobile broadband in the town for her daughter who is being distance high schooled.

Next year she is sending her son to boarding school earlier than she’d hoped and is considering moving into town for better internet access, away from her station-manager husband.

Sancia from Queensland says she made the heartbreaking decision to pack her two kids up and move 1500 km away to school her children, while her husband remains at home.

Jocelyn, also from Queensland, says that she would jump in the car and drive her children until they could get mobile service for their lessons. She says the lessons were one after the other, and they’d have to race back to the station to put the laptop on charge for 10 minutes before racing back to a mobile reception area again. 

It’s a pretty dire situation, but thankfully access to the nbn™ network has the potential to markedly change the lives of these families living in regional Australia. 

Our Fixed Wireless Network is being rolled out across the nation, and SkyMuster™, nbn’s first satellite is is scheduled to go very soon.

For the first time, many Australian families will have access to broadband which will help solve many of the issues I’ve mentioned above, and will open a world of possibilities for people living in the bush.

Watch: How the nbn™ network is changing the education experience in Australia