A REAL School

Host: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association

Save the date for the 2018 Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association Federal Conference to be held in Canberra, August 1-2. This promises to be a great conference! Find all information at this link: https://www.icpaconferenceaust.com/  #ICPAconf18

I have a little story to tell. I am the Govie at a tourist park in a remote area of the Northern Territory, which means that I am contracted to oversee the education of the children who live at the park. An extra little quirk of my job here is that I sometimes host short tours for small groups of tourists who would like to see what the children experience on School of the Air. Sometimes they have been to the Visitor’s Centre at Alice Springs School of the Air and would like to see what it is like from the other end. Sometimes they have been enthralled by the romance of the outback and the adventures it has to offer, or maybe they have watched Sonny do his lessons on the TV with Skippy by his side. Most are amazed at the technology involved, at the authenticity and competency of the children as they use it to engage in their classes on the computer, and at how the children do the same subjects and meet the same standards as their urban peers. “Just like at a real school!” is often the comment. Last week, on hearing this comment for what seemed like the hundredth time, young Miss Transition (1st year of school), with a polite smile, spoke up – “Excuse me”, she said. “We ARE a real school.”

What is a REAL school? Do you think of clusters of buildings with children running around practising their ABCs, with teachers moulding these eager young minds? Of course, being a teacher, for the definition of ‘school’ I go to the dictionary:

  • An organisation that provides instruction
  • The process of teaching and learning
  • An institution designed to provide learning spaces and learning environments for the teaching of students

My favourite is this:

  • A community of learners pursuing knowledge together.

And this is probably where the question “What is a REAL school?” arises. No-one disputes that Schools of the Air (SOTAs) meet the first three definitions, but many who do not live in remote areas do not appreciate that SOTAs are a COMMUNITY of learners, just like any other school.

Ask any student in any school in Australia about their school and they will talk about their friends, of playing at lunch and recess, of the teacher telling them to stop chatting in class, of sports days and assemblies and school concerts. Children who attend Schools of the Air are no different – they just do it in a different way – by phone or internet, or at In-School get-togethers and camps. That sense of community is just as strong, if not stronger, than in any other school in which I have worked.

Late 2017 and early 2018 provided a demonstration of how just strong SOTA communities are, with the WA government attempting to close down the five SOTAs in that state. The strength of these communities and the advocacy of Isolated Children’s Parent’s Association saw this decision overturned, but the fight continues to save several other models of education in WA. The ripples of this political decision have also impacted on SOTA communities all over Australia, causing many remote families to question whether SOTAs in other states are also under threat, and whether our urban cousins understand the vital role our SOTAs play in remote and rural life.

We must educate the people of Australia about our vibrant school communities, and support ICPA to fight for our bush kid’s right to an equitable education. Let’s all join with my young Miss Transition, seizing every opportunity that we can to politely say, “Excuse me … We ARE a real school!”

Bush kids get together for mini school.

Having lunch in the playground for bush kids.

Gym practice for bush kids.