School of Air (SOA/SOTAs) is a generic term used in Australia to refer to a correspondence system that caters to the primary and early secondary education. They are also known as the Virtual school initiatives in Australia. Initially, all the classes were conducted by radio but internet technology has had a positive impact on this system.
School of the Air was started in 1950 by Adelaide Miethke who was the head of the South Australia branch of the Royal Flying Doctor’s service. Her idea was to use the radio network to broadcast lessons to school children. The trial was a success with the first lessons broadcast taking place in Alice Springs in 1951. There are about 25 distance schools in Australia across all states except Tasmania and ACT. A large number comprises of primary schools, but most states have incorporated an open education high school. SOTA students can enroll in one once they finish primary school or simply attend a private boarding school in the city.
How it works
School of the Air main aim is to gather the isolated families into a school-based unit to teach closeness by being part of a classroom. To break down the isolation that exists in children who live in remote experiences, the teacher must ensure there is a communication where they talk to the students and in return, students give responses to any issue they may be facing. Teachers look for a member of the distance education group, the ‘home tutor’ and conduct regular meetings on air. Activities such as reading, cooking, fishing, poetry, and music are available for children to allow them to interact with the peers. Incorporation of the radio on the platform allows parents and other groups to conduct meetings over the air on the well-being of their children. Schools of the Air are a success in Australia for several reasons, but the most important is the great distance that exists between settlements and the fact that a big number of small settlements with few people are scattered across the country. As a result, most children in these areas lack the opportunity to attend educational institutions which is the main reason for the creation of Schools of the Air.
Use of Technology
The technology used for the lesson is a programme known as Centra. It’s more of an interactive whiteboard with a ‘text chat’ function. Students can simply write on the board or just put up their hand and get to see and hear their teacher. Sometimes the sound may lag, so the teachers prefer to use teleconferencing together with Centra. The telephone comes with a ‘press to talk switch’ function to reduce the background noise picked up by the telephone microphone. It’s also a way to reduce distractions to increase student’s concentration and participation.
Extra lessons can be broadcasted with teleconferencing and another programme called Moddle where students can access any posted work, or get it on textbooks. Some SOTA students also use Skype to access educational services. SOTA system also allows students to do the work at their own pace which means they can spend less time doing schoolwork. Eventually, they are required to sit for the NAP-LAN tests for years 3, 5, 7, and 9 respectively. Although School of Air students were initially isolated, today, all classes of children have access to education through SOTA and other correspondence schools.
Support Teacher Learning (STL)
SOTA has established the Support Teacher Learning program to provide support to both teachers and students in difficulties. This branch is under the SOTA Learning Difficulties team that comprises of one support teacher in each of the Schools of Air. This body works hand-in-hand with teachers, students, home tutors, and international agencies to establish an effective educational process and outcomes for any student. The process involves effective planning that is easy to understand for every team member.
For School of Air in Australia, technology is a superior component for delivering educational materials to students across the country.