Prepare to be amazed as we introduce you to the biggest school in the world. So, how big is this school to snag that title? Well it’s 1, 5 million square kilometres! Can you even begin to fathom a school that size? Let’s put it into context, it’s bigger than Peru, the UK would fit into it more than 6 times and it’s twice as big as Texas. That’s one seriously big school!
Now when we talk about the biggest school in the world we’re not talking about an actual building that size; we’re talking about the area of land that it covers, and as you’ve seen it’s big, very big! If you had to drive across this huge piece of land at 100km per hour, it would take you about 15,000 hours! Anyone have that kind of time? Unlikely!
You probably live in a city or town and you are more than likely to have access a fair amount of schools for your kids. You choose a school and your child is on their way to a bright future by filling their minds with information. Job done!
Of course in some places around the world getting to a school is a challenge of epic proportions! But there’s one school that has taken this challenge head on in a completely unique way. An amazing and huge school set over a huge expanse of land that is situated in the Australian Outback and other remote areas of Australia; where people can live up to hundreds, even thousands of kilometres away from each other. It’s not as simple as just opening a school and you’re off.
So, how do you solve the challenge of educating these kids that live hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres away from each other?
Well you open a school of course! We’ve already said that it’s not as simple as just opening a school, but this is no ordinary school, this is not a school made of bricks and mortar; it’s a school that is so big, so different and so unique and it’s called the Australian School of the Air, a world-first concept. Sounds pretty weird right – a school in the air?
The first of its kind in Australia was the extraordinary Alice Springs School of Air (ASSOA) which has been in existence for 59 years already, and once you know what it’s all about, you’ll see how inventive the Aussie people were in solving the challenge of education for all, no matter where they were.
Now imagine this. You live in a remote area and there are no schools. You could drive hundreds of kilometres to get there; but you’d probably have to get going at 2am in the morning. Nope not an option. So each morning your kids go to your study, switch on the computer and take a lesson by two-way radio. They can see their teacher, but that’s it; nobody can actually see each other. But they can hear each other, so your child answers questions and can hear their classmates chatting. A half hour passes by, and they log off. Now your child logs on to the website, takes a quick quiz, so his teacher can check that he understands the lesson and then he gets on with the given course work and homework. School done for the day, and the next day, the same thing happens. This is exactly how the School of the Air works. Pretty unique when you think about it.
The Australian Air of the School started out in 1951 from Alice Springs as a short-wave radio link that was a one-way satellite radio communication channel that kids tuned into to learn. These teachers had a tough job on their hands. It must have been a fair challenge trying to make a child feel like they’re sitting right next to you, and to feel part of a class while you’re talking to them over the airwaves with no way for the kids to participate. But they came up with a solution to this problem too… teachers go and visit each child in person, called a ‘patrol’, about once a year. Of course technology has and will continue to play an enormous role in how this school works.
So how does this fare against a ‘normal’ education?
Kids of today are often overscheduled, have no time for free play, they often don’t exercise enough and electronics play a huge part in their lives.
By comparison, kids in remote areas have some advantages over city kids in a ‘normal’ school environment. They’re active and healthy, have plenty of time to explore and discover without being inhibited and electronics are also not a huge part of their everyday lives. Doesn’t sound so bad right?
One of the major missions of The Australian School of the Air is to help these kids relate to the outside world. As technology has advanced, we’re still talking about learning ‘long distance’, if you can put it like that, but these kids now get individual attention from teachers as they work through their lesson plans, they can work at their own pace and individual needs can be catered for, like a gifted child, or a child with learning difficulties. We’d all love this kind of individual attention given to our kids, so even though slightly out of the norm, it can be a huge benefit to these kids.
As these areas are so remote, the school is also committed to getting these kids to socialise and meet their classmates. So how do they do this? They have come up with the idea of ‘meet and greets’, of which there are about 3 or 4 every year. The kids travel to the school and spend a week there with their teacher and classmates. A pretty cool solution to isolation.
How has it evolved over the years?
As we’ve said the kids were initially taught by a one-way radio system and at that point they received their course materials and returned their written work using either the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) or post office services. They used the old pedal-powered radios which were invented by Alfred Traeger in 1929. From 2003 until 2009 ‘classes’ as such were done via a shortwave radio system, which is a two-way system allowing the kids to become involved in the lessons. These lessons were run from specially built studios. Soon after that most of the schools switched to an online learning experience through wireless internet.
As they’ve adopted this new technology, teachers can now do ‘show and tell’ to put it simply; think singing, science demonstrations, drama, poetry, physical education, reading and art. This is done through video and an electronic whiteboard. Students respond through a webcam. Amazingly students attend virtual ‘assemblies’.
The kids can even chat to their teachers during the week if they need to and a free call number has been set up. For the kids living in major inland towns they spend one hour per day with their teacher where they get group or individual lessons. The rest is up to parents and tutors.
They are pioneers in this process, and based on what they’ve already achieved, they’re sure to come out on top. The possibilities are endless, and one step at a time will get them there.
Give your kids an experience of a lifetime
If you live in Australia or you’re planning a trip there, the number one place to visit has got to be the Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre! If you’re heading to Uluru, you can do the trip at the same time. Your kids can actually participate in a School of the Air class, while they’re in a broadcast studio! How cool is that? This will give them a completely different insight into how other kids learn and life in the Outback. Try making it on a Friday for ‘virtual assembly’. Visit their website for more information
You can also visit the Broken Hill School of the Air which you can do as a road trip from Sydney or Melbourne. You can also visit their website for more details
The kids might love it so much that they’ll be asking to attend a School of the Air!
This programme has come from humble beginnings to a fully-fledged schooling solution, quite an amazing feat.
How large is the broadcast area?
1.5 million square kilometres.
Which School of the Air covers the biggest broadcast area?
By far the Alice Springs School of the Air with 1 million square kilometres out of the 1,5 million in total.
Where is the furthest student?
Over 1000 kilometres away from Alice Springs.
How many students do all Schools of the Air have?
Approximately 2,700 students across Australia. The Alice Springs School of the Air is the most remote, and only has about 140 students out of the total.
Who pays for School of the Air?
The school is funded by the Australian Government, but parents pay a voluntary donation per child each year as well as a minimal enrolment fee per family.
What does it cost?
Approximately double the cost of educating a child in a mainstream, urban school.
What are the ages of the students?
From 4 up to 13.
How big are the classes?
They range between 8 and 18 students.
How much radio time do students use?
They spend approximately half an hour on the radio each day. They also have a personal 10 minute session with their teacher once a week.
How much time do students spend on computers?
Again, this depends on the age, but teachers try and ensure that the kids don’t spend more than 50% of their day on computers.
How much correspondence work do they do?
They spend about five to six hours a day, five days a week, working on their lessons at home.
How many Schools of the Air exist now in Australia?
The programme has grown at a rapid pace and there are now 16 Schools of the Air in total.