The schools of the air, also known as correspondence schools, provide education for children in remote locations of Australia. The courses are given through the air, more precisely through waves. In the past, they were aimed at primary and early secondary levels only, but have now expanded to upper classes and adult education.
Before the 1950s, the children from remote areas had to go to boarding schools or were educated by mail. However, a reverend called John Flynn created the “Royal Flying Doctor service” (RFDS) because of the urgency of giving the remote communities a medical service. In 1946, Adelaide Miethke – the vice-president of the South Australian part of the RFDS – discovered that children in remote communities were all taught to use the RFDS, so she got the idea of schools which would use an identical system: the Schools of the Air. A few years later, this system became official and by 1956 it had reached the other Australian territories. By 2005, there were more than sixteen schools of the air, covering 1.5 million square kilometres. Only Tasmania and the Australian capital do no use this system.
The programme used in the schools of the air is identical to that of traditional education. The teachers can even modify their courses if some children have special needs. Teachers try to visit their pupils at least once a year and parties are organized to enable the pupils to participate in school activities with their family.
In the past, the only way for students to reach the schools of the air was to use pedal radios. Fortunately the technology has now evolved and the courses are given through transmitter-receiver, which enables interactions between both teacher and pupil. Thanks to a camera, an electronic blackboard and the satellites, the teachers can give their courses and know in real time the questions and the answers of the class. Discussions are also possible because each pupil can hear the other.
In order to make this kind of school work, an effective administration is necessary. Each school of the air has its own post office where school materials are sent to the students. The same system is used for the library: if they want to borrow books, they have to ask for them to be sent.
Finally, among the schools of the air, we can name “Alice Springs School of the Air”, which is called “the biggest classroom on earth”. This school – which is strewn over 1.3 million square kilometres – was created in 1951 and counts more than 145 pupils. These children are of the Outback, where the demography is one of the weakest on earth with less than 0.1 inhabitant per square kilometre.
Schools of the air can be considered as an icon of Australian culture because they have been created specifically for the geographic situation of this country, which has numerous remote places. Nowadays, this system is used in other countries, inspired by Australia.
Fany Chaveriat, Gloria Coscia and Noémie Martin