Stories from Guild Hon Members
THE SCHOOL OF THE AIR, ALICE SPRINGS, CENTRAL AUSTRALIA
On my “post-retirement from CLC” trip to Australia in Autumn 2018 I was really looking forward to visiting the School of the Air in Alice Springs. Along with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, also based there, I had learnt about it as a child from Blue Peter. Interestingly, on my return home I found that not many people knew about it.
The School of the Air (ASSOA) has been in existence since 1951 to provide education for children living in the ‘Outback’ of Central Australia. ASSOA and its short-wave radio link was once the only way for children who lived a days’ drive or more from the nearest school to get an education. Some communities have their own schools today but ASSOA plays a vital role in ensuring children in the outback get quality education and opportunities that other children get. Today, daily lessons are provided by satellite broadband to children, some of whom live over 1000km away.
The school broadcasts to an area of over 1.3 million square kilometres, which is double the size of Texas, ten times the size of England and includes most of Northern Territory, and parts of South Australia and Western Australia. These sparsely populated and remote interior regions are home to families at cattle stations, roadhouses, national parks as well as indigenous communities. It is the largest school in the world by spread of classrooms.
Today the school caters for 110-140 pupils aged 4-13 years in classes of 8-18 with 14 teachers and five support staff. At the age of 13 the children will move onto a high school and may become a boarder. Not surprisingly this education is expensive. Parents pay a voluntary donation of $100 a year for the first two children and then $60 for the third and fourth and a computer is loaned to the family. The day consists of an hour’s teacher-led session and a meeting with the class tutor and then independent correspondence work for 5-6 hours supervised by a tutor at home who is usually a parent or an employed home tutor.
When we visited, we watched a teacher taking a “live” lesson. Each child’s picture was on the screen and one child had even brought a lamb in for all to see. It was wonderful to see her interacting with the children and to see the chat and learning going on. With the internet it is possible for the children to take part not only in conventional academic lessons but also dance, sport, music and art classes as well. The class tutor from the school visits the home once a year in person, a practice started in 1960 when a teacher called Nancy Barrett used her own car to drop into remote cattle stations and communities, her ‘patrol’ as she called it. This is now part of the duties of the teachers at ASSOA, although the government supplies the vehicle and covers expenses. For these isolated children and families, a highlight is the once termly meet-up for a week in Alice Springs to enable them to get to know the faces on the screen socially and to chat and play sports together.
The School of the Air originally used a pedal radio for a one-way broadcast of three half-hour lessons a week which then evolved into a two-way radio broadcast which enabled interaction with the teacher and an added Q and A session at the end. Broadcasts were first sent from the Royal Flying Doctor service in 1951 until purpose-built premises were acquired. In those days work and textbooks were sent to the child by post who completed the assignments and sent them back to the tutor who then marked the work and sent it back to the child. This whole process could take up to eight weeks. With internet technology today assessment and feedback can be almost instant.
It was so interesting to see the display of old equipment used at the school compared to today’s internet communications. We also admired all the lovely artwork and projects that the children have sent in and projects they do when they meet together in person. The whole experience was impressive and the Visitors’ Centre is well worth a visit by anyone with an interest in education.
At this present time of uncertainty, it is good to know that pupils can still have a quality education wherever they are and whatever school they are in as CLC has already proven in the last few weeks.
Mrs Debbie Vass, Teacher of Geography
AROUND THE WORLD IN THE COVID CRISIS
The week in the run up to College closing was a flurry to ensure girls had everything they needed to continue to progress normally in the ‘new normal’ – online!
Online teaching? My heart sank and the ‘can I do this?’ thoughts set in!
My thanks to Mr McMahon and the IT Department for their help and patience. Also to Miss Shakeshaft in Lower College Library for assisting me with Team Chat and having a short ‘mock’ lesson!
In such uncertain times it was good to be up and dressed as if I was off to College to begin my day. I was at my desk at the appointed time to Team Chat! The technology worked perfectly, the girls were enthusiastic and much was accomplished, including putting my washing machine on between lessons!
By the end of the week I had ‘been’ to South Africa, Thailand, California, the Ukraine and around the UK. Plans for next term were made, LAMDA syllabus requirements discussed and suggestions of preparation work that could be done noted down. On a more serious note there was the opportunity to talk to the girls about what the situation was in their country and how different governments were taking action with regard to ‘lockdown’ and putting systems in place to combat the virus and treat the victims. On a lighter note it was a treat to talk about the weather, who was having what for dinner and also an opportunity to meet much loved pets (see Molly in California below)!
Comments from girls:
“We’ve been able to carry on with what we would ordinarily be doing which is great. I was worried that I would fall behind in a lot of my work but the teachers have been so supportive that I’m sure that won’t happen.”
“Online teaching allowed me to learn effectively even away from College, and I find communication online more liberal and relaxing!”
“Though initially taking up learning and teaching remotely seems daunting, it is as productive as in a classroom when you have the right enthusiasm from both teacher and student.”
Miss T.M.L. Black, Teacher of Drama and Interview Skills
MY MATERNITY COVER TEACHING IN THE GEOGRAPHY DEPARTMENT
When I agreed to cover a maternity leave in the Geography Department for the last two weeks of the Spring Term, little did I know what was in store for me! Just two weeks I thought- no problem! I was rather excited for my first day back in the classroom for eighteen months.
Emails appearing about something called Teams (and not hockey teams) and of girls going home early gave me a hint. Numbers were dropping each day, remaining girls were asking: “Mrs Vass are we using Teams? Can I put my prep on Classnotes”. Cue a rapid learning experience and within a day I was posting lesson invites and details with attached Powerpoints and worksheets. Luckily the girls were patient and helped with my technical issues like, “Why can’t the online girls see the PowerPoint? Why can’t I hear them? It worked before, why doesn’t it now?”. “I’m still learning”, I would say. In a normal situation you are talking face-to-face and walking round the room checking work but this was strange and I found myself talking to the speakers on several occasions!
With College closed, week two was remote Teams teaching from home. Decision one: where to conduct the lesson. Decision two: what backdrop to have. The lesson was, hopefully, going to be recorded so let’s not have anything embarrassing on show! Family banned from room, lesson set up, relevant sheets open, class invited to join, record button pressed, I was all set to go. Greetings with each girl on line, texts by friends to those not showing up, ones in Far East would access recorded lesson later, girls having technical issues. Some girls in their bedrooms, some elsewhere with sun streaming through windows; one up at midnight her time. At the mercy of the technology and my own abilities, the lessons proceeded and the girls helped me out! One minute they could see a PowerPoint and then they couldn’t or lesson was not recording. At times I worried I was talking to no-one so it was reassuring hear rustling but unnerving when they were all on mute, “Is anyone there?”, I would ask. Teaching at a desk rather than walking around was strange as was not having face-to-face contact. Only four girls were on the screen at a time and none at all if you were showing a PowerPoint. But they were able to show me their work. Holding a discussion not knowing who was talking and being able to give everyone a fair chance was tricky.
I was reminded of my visit to The School of the Air in Alice Springs in Central Australia where the teacher sits in a classroom and teaches children who may be 1000's of miles away. Originally lessons were by live radio and the turnaround for assignments took weeks by post. Now anyone anywhere can be taught remotely and, although the teaching techniques are different and there are challenges, it is invaluable.
I know I only touched the surface of the remote teaching but I hope I did a pretty good job in those two weeks. Strangely, I am pleased I was part of this challenging time in College’s history. We were on a steep learning curve and we supported each other and achieved amazing things in a short time and this is continuing. The care and concern for everyone in the community was so evident. The final prayers of term was a weird and emotional time. Numbers were down and everyone was social distancing but the warmth of the community shone through and there was many a tear in an eye as we contemplated when we would next meet again.
Mrs Debbie Vass, Teacher of Geography