National Geographically Isolated Distance Education Day

ICPA Australia is calling on the Federal Government to formally recognise the role that parents play in distance education with the launch of Geographically Isolated Distance Education Day on 1 December. The day recognises and honours the ongoing plight of geographically isolated families who must educate their children at home at all times. 

A heightened awareness through the COVID-19 pandemic of the challenges associated with educating children at home has highlighted the challenges faced by geographically isolated families who, due to living in isolated parts of Australia, have no choice but to educate their children by distance. It has also validated the necessity of an adult tutor to be available to assist and supervise students while they participate in online learning and learning from home, drawing attention to the commitment, responsibility, time and financial impost required to facilitate children’s full-time learning in the home environment. 

ICPA Australia Federal President Alana Moller explains, “Geographically isolated distance education families, often across generations, have dedicated themselves to educating their children at home. This needs to be recognised and lauded.” 

“Most people don’t understand the commitment isolated families make to access an education in the bush” said Northern Territory Isolated Children’s Parents Association State President, Sarah Cook.

In the Northern Territory, it is a government requirement that school of the air and distance education students are supervised in the home school room. The school of the air teacher will only deliver a few online lessons each a day, at best. For the remainder of the school day the supervisor must physically deliver the lesson materials, support the student, undertake planning and preparation, behavioural supervision, scaffolding, problem solving, explicit teaching, marking, teacher liaison and feedback, among other responsibilities.

“Working parents (predominantly mothers) in geographically isolated areas take on this role, by necessity. If they cannot provide this supervision themselves, they must pay someone to fulfil that requirement. Either way, there is no subsidy and no support from government for the delivery of public education in these circumstances. It is not an equitable requirement by government and ICPA have been advocating for a subsidy towards these costs for years” said Sarah Cook.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said parents should not have to choose between their employment and educating their children. He was commenting on the COVID-19 pandemic, when families across Australia, across the world, had no choice but to educate their children at home.

“Most people don’t realise families in geographically isolated areas of Australia are forced to make this choice, regardless of pandemics. A national day will highlight the contribution, the compromise and the cost, these families’ bear towards the delivery of a public education” said Sarah Cook.

The provision of distance education to geographically isolated children is founded on the assumption that there is a distance education tutor present in the home schoolroom to supervise, assist and essentially provide fulltime support and facilitation of their schooling on a daily, full-time basis. 

There is however no recognition of the essential role this person plays in the success of geographically isolated education, nor the implications and costs associated with providing this person for the families for whom this is a way of life. There is an urgent need to support those families for who, due to the tyranny of distance, this form of educational delivery is a full-time commitment. ICPA Australia calls on the Federal Government to recognise and provide extra financial support to assist the approximately 1500 families this affects. 

National Geographically Isolated Distance Education Day is a day to honour those in distance education classrooms across remote Australia for their ongoing commitment and resilience. 

Geographically Isolated Distance Education Day is on the 1st of December. Families who are not geographically isolated may enrol in distance education by choice. This day recognises families who access distance education by necessity, due to being geographically isolated.

The number of geographically isolated primary school students in the NT is extremely small (approx. 350 students, 150 families) and therefore not onerous to the government purse strings.

In situations where small Territory schools cannot provide secondary education, such as Mataranka, the NT Department of Education accepts the cost of a distance education supervisor. Students are dual enrolled in Katherine School of the Air (middle years 7, 8, 9) or NT School of Distance Education (secondary 10, 11, 12). Then, at no costs to families, the Territory government provides a full time classroom supervisor (currently advertised at $29 per hour for 32 hours per week), in addition to an equipped classroom and all the school facilities, including individual computers with an internet connection.

In comparison, geographically isolated distance education families must provide their own supervisor, plus accommodation, food, internet and other incentives to attract the supervisor, the home school room space including amenities, and in many cases at present, the computer and even the internet connection required in the delivery of education.

IPCA NT believe geographically isolated families delivering education without the support of government to this extent, are in fact, in a situation contrary to the intention of the NT Education Act 2015, where government school education should be free.

CPA Australia research shows that there are over 4000 students from approximately 1500 distance education classrooms across Australia for whom access to schooling is limited to this mode of educational delivery as a result of geographical isolation.

These families work mainly in the agriculture industry and their contribution to the Northern Territory is absolutely critical; as frontline essential workers – providing food, fibre and ecosystem services not only for Australians but many overseas communities and contributing greatly to the National GDP.

Importantly, there has been an extensive push to develop the regions, to develop North Australia. Families, supported by the provision of education and related services, are critical to the sustainable achievement of developing the north.