Staff and students connect via distance ed

From Cape York to South Korea, NSW distance education students have settled into the school year. Vivienne Jones reports.

Image: Top effort: Indonesian Consul General Abdul Nazar presents Toby Hill with an award. Toby came first in the state in Indonesian Beginners in the 2022 HSC.

Not many five-year-olds pack an overnight bag to catch up with their classmates, but that was the case for Broken Hill’s School of the Air Kindergarten class last week.

This year, School of the Air welcomed 18 new Kindergarten students to its Broken Hill campus and one to its Hay campus.

After settling into their routines at home, students visited the Broken Hill school for four days of learning and activities.

Among the newest starters was Rory Mannion, who lives on a sheep, goat and cattle property about three hours north of Broken Hill.

Rory’s mother Tahlei Mannion said Rory and his older brother Blake would motivate each other in their station’s classroom, but always looked forward to school visits with their classmates.

“Obviously education is the number one priority for our children, but being so remote, socialisation is a big part as well,” she said.

For many of the students, who live on remote properties and access additional subjects via distance from their home school, connection with classmates is what drives their learning.

Welcoming in the 2023 school year, North-East Public School of Distance Education Principal Debby Jackson said students lived across multiple time zones and some had limited access to technology.

“Communication can be anything from 5G network to broadband speeds to bush telegraph speed,” Ms Jackson said.

“Depending on where the learners are and what they are experiencing at that moment, our staff are always ready to be agile in how we teach our students.

Staff across the 12 distance education schools in NSW work to connect their 2,500 students across vast distances, but there are also opportunities for face-to-face learning.

“Our home-based students are getting excited, as field visits from teachers are planned to start soon,” Ms Jackson said.

“The visits strengthen the learning team of student, parent supervisor and teacher.”

While some students dial in from remote farms, a handful are also travelling with their families.

“The mobile students are always having a fabulous time with their travels and are regularly sharing their learning with the teachers and each other via internet, email, text and phone lessons,” Ms Jackson said.

“We even have a Year 2 student learning from South Korea this term, as well as students in Western Australia and at the top of the country in Cape York.

“The teachers plan and design learning to take advantage of their students’ destinations and amazing experiences.”

At Sir Eric Woodward School in Sydney’s north, the distance education unit runs a weekly online social club for students, which includes a visit by a special guest.

Principal Sian Watkins said the students lived across NSW and met virtually, to link up with others outside of school.

Image: Popular: Ziggy the school therapy dog.

“Ziggy, our school therapy dog, is a regular and very popular attendee,” she said.

“A variety of alternate communication devices are used by our students, including eye-gaze technology and switch devices to assist participation.”

She said weekly activities included book club, artwork reviews, music and discussions on interest topics nominated by the students.

“But top of the agenda is having a whole lot of fun,” Ms Watkins said.

Camden Haven High School celebrated one of its former distance education students last week when Indonesian Consul General Abdul Nazar visited the campus along with members of the Australia Indonesian Association (AIA).

“The consular staff and AIA recognised the outstanding achievements of Toby Hill, who came first in the state in Indonesian Beginners in the 2022 HSC,” Principal Margaret Hutchinson said.

Toby was enrolled in Indonesian as a single course student at Camden Haven High School while attending his home school, Macksville High School.

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