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Divided by distance
In some parts of outback Australia, children are not able to travel to their local school. They live on stations and farms which are so enormous it can take hours to visit a neighbor or go into the local town. Communities and townships are spread across vast areas which stretch for many thousands of square kilometers.
These children are isolated and remote from the social and cultural benefits that come to most children when they go to school. Since they can't go to school, the school comes to them!
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How did distance education begin?
In years gone by, the children of remote outback stations used to be taught via a visiting teacher service. A teacher would travel from one station to another on horseback, providing rudimentary education to children who were not able to go to a school. In many cases, the children were only visited two or three times per year. Apart from that, it was up to families to provide whatever education they could using their own resources and those the teacher provided to them.
By the 1960's, the school of the air system was introduced. A teacher would provide lessons via a HF radio to students, who would tune in from their homes. The students could communicate with the teacher and with each other.
This system was overtaken in later years by more sophisticated forms of technology, including telephone teaching and the use of online lessons and resources. By 2005, telephone teaching had replaced the use of HF radios, as it was able to offer greater flexibility and reliability.
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Now and into the future
Recently, pre-school aged children have been introduced to distance education. These children are now offered access to a specialist teacher, home visits and invitations to attend mini schools. The children are now linked via satellite and the latest digital technology to help them interact and link with their peers in other remote areas of the country.
Into the future, the changes will continue. More and more regions of Australia are now gaining access to broadband Internet, and with this will come greater ability for rural families to access high quality online content for distance education. Online materials will continue to improve in quality and availability, giving students the ability to interact in real time with their remote peers using good quality materials.