The first of its kind in Australia, Alice Springs School of the Air (ASSOA) has seen much growth and many changes in its 60+ years.
From the initial idea by Miss Adelaide Miethke, the trial process and the official opening to the building on a specialised premises and the more recent switch from radio to broadband satellite technologies, the Alice Springs School of the Air has helped educate thousands of students. Facilitating daily contact between students, home supervisors and teachers, the school has always strived to find new and better ways of enriching the education of Australia’s most remote children.
This timeline tells the story of the Alice Springs School of the Air from 1944 to today.
It was in 1944 that Miss Adelaide Miethke, a member of the Council of the Flying Doctor Service (FDS) of South Australia, suggested the idea of using two-way radio to give educational talks to children in outback regions of Australia. Discussions between Mr. R.G. Pitts (Director of FDS in Alice Springs), Mr. L. Dodd (Assistant Supervisor of Education in the NT and Headmaster of Alice Springs Higher Primary School) and Miss Adelaide Miethke set in motion the School of the Air - the first of its kind in the world.
After a long wait for special communications equipment, a trial program began in 1950. Teachers at Alice Springs Higher Primary School volunteered to teach the radio lessons. A landline was laid from the Flying Doctor base to the School (at Hartley Street). Teachers took turns to present the specially prepared scripts to the outback children with the help of radio staff at the Flying Doctor base.
On 8th June the School of the Air was officially opened at the Flying Doctor Base. Mr. Kissell of Alice Springs Higher Primary School was the leader of the broadcasting team. Initially lessons were a one-way affair, but soon a question and answer segment was added to the end of each broadcast. Sometimes a microphone was taken into one of the classrooms at the school and the remote students could listen to specially prepared lessons or dramatisations. Three half-hour sessions were broadcast each week.
Miss Molly Ferguson took over as the leader of the broadcasting team.
Alice Springs School of the Air moved to a new location at the base of Anzac Hill (now the Youth Hub but previously Anzac Hill High School). It has a purpose built broadcast studio with an observation area. During 1954 Miss Molly Ferguson becomes the sole teacher for School of the Air.
The first Get-together Week is held in May and was attended by 30 School of the Air students (aged 5-15 years). The Get-together is held at the Alice Springs Higher Primary School during the school holiday break.
Miss Molly Ferguson is awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her work at School of the Air. In 1955 she also retired from the School to get married.
Mrs. Margaret Stiller became the Alice Springs School of the Air teacher. Two extra radio sessions were added to help the secondary students and closer links are made with the correspondence work. The school library was initiated with books posted out to students.
The first excursion for School of the Air students happened in 1957. Mrs. Stiller and 4 other adults took 18 students to Adelaide for 3 weeks.
Mrs. Nancy Barrett was employed to replace Mrs. Stiller who had to retire due to ill health.
Mrs. Nancy Barrett embarked on the first official "patrol". Using her own car and away for a week at a time, she visited as many stations as she could in one direction (from Alice Springs), spending half a day at each and staying at a different station each night. The "patrols" were so successful that the Commonwealth Government went on to provide the vehicles and expenses for future trips.
Mr. David Ashton became the School of the Air teacher. He went on patrol four times a year for 1-2 weeks at a time.
The School of the Air moved once again, this time to a demountable at the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). A second teacher, Mrs. Judy Hodder, was employed to teach the younger children and to cover lessons for the other teacher whilst they were away on patrol.
Until the end of 1973 the role of Alice Springs School of the Air was supplementary to that of the South Australian Correspondence School. All courses were produced in Adelaide, and all lessons were sent back there for marking. In Alice Springs teachers provided a 20-minute radio lesson to each grade, and occasionally visited 'on-air' students when on patrol.
It was in 1974 that Alice Springs School of the Air became completely autonomous. Becoming the Correspondence School for Central Australia, all students’ families were given transceivers and the school its own frequencies. Correspondence work was now sent out to students, marked and returned from Alice Springs. The school now had enough students to have a teacher for each class. Patrols were made by class teachers to each of their students once a year. The first supervisors' conference is organised by Mr. David Ashton and is attended by 25 supervisors.
Alice Springs School of the Air’s logo was designed by Mrs. Val Whalen, who was the ASSOA teacher librarian. By 1975 the school had 123 students and three administration staff.
The first aerial patrol took place (by 1991 a quarter of all patrols are carried out by air). Due to the increased number of staff, a new school building was needed to accommodate them all. Work began on the Head Street premises (where we still are today), in 1976.
School operations began from Head Street, although the teachers still had to travel to the RFDS base for radio broadcasts. A Preschool program is added to the school.
Official opening of the School at Head Street. The radio broadcasts are made from the now completed specially built studio. By this time there were 13 teachers at the school and 3 administrative staff.
Alice Springs School of the Air was issued with its first patrol vehicle, a brown 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser.
The library trailer was used to take the library to the students (during patrols), however this was discontinued after it was deemed not viable.
The first ‘In-School’ was held (replacing the former function of a Get-together). This was organised by Mrs. Eileen Kennedy for her Year 3 Class, it was so successful it has become an annual event for all classes.
The School celebrates its 40th birthday with Mr. Christopher Brocklebank, the artist in residence.
By 1992 the school was undergoing many new developments under Principal Mr. Ed Boyd. Communications technology was taking off and became a major focus from 1992 onwards. A trial program for Indigenous students was held which coincided with the beginning of a major radio upgrade. Satellite television broadcasts via Imparja Television were trialed. Laptops were trialed in the senior classes.
Email was introduced to staff and senior students as a new way to communicate and computers were made available to students in Years 6 and 7. New phones and a fax were also installed.
An extension was completed to the Head St. building which included a new Visitor Centre, a larger teachers' preparation area and more storage space. More computers are made available to students covering Years 4-7.
The new Visitor Centre was officially opened and a full time Manager appointed.
The use of email had by this stage become an important communications tool, especially for the older students.
Alice Springs School of the Air started using secure internet services for teaching. The year also saw a visit to the school by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Alice Springs School of the Air celebrated its 50th birthday. Christopher Brocklebank was artist in residence for the lead up to the birthday week celebrations in June. The 50th Birthday Mural Wall was officially opened.
The first roll out of Interactive Distance Learning (IDL) began, using satellite and broadband technologies.
With the IDL Studio now built, the phase-out period of radio lessons commenced while simultaneously IDL classes (via broadband satellite internet) were phased in. The technology used.
In 2006 the school became completely reliant on satellite technology to conduct classes.
What once was a second radio studio was transformed into a second IDL studio.
Alice Springs School of the Air celebrated its 60th birthday during In-School week with students, families & friends.
In 2013 the school had 140 students, 16 teachers, a Principal (Ms. Belinda Pearson) and a small number of support staff. The students are from as far north in the NT as Gregory National Park and over the border to the south, in SA. The closest student is just over 60kms away and the furthest in the NT is 1467kms. Students in the same class are sometimes over 1900kms apart. In 2013 we provide teaching services to three Aboriginal communities (Corella Creek, Mulga Bore & Bonya). We also have some students only doing correspondence with us (they don’t have satellite dishes & computers), their parents are contractors and the families travel a lot in NT. There are two students in Papua New Guinea.
In 2018 the school had 104 students, 13 teachers, a Principal (Ms. Kerrie Russell) and a small number of support staff. Our students are from as far north in the NT as Maningrida and over the border to the south, in SA, west into WA and east into QLD. The closest student is just about 75kms away and the furthest in the NT are over 1200kms. Students in the same class are sometimes over 1700kms apart. In 2018 we had 2 teachers based in the Aboriginal community of Corella Creek. We also have some students travelling with their families. These students may not participate in IDL lessons as they down load their lessons when internet is available. Their parents are contractors and the families travel a lot in NT. There are two students in Papua New Guinea.
In 2019 the school had 101 students, 11 teachers, a Principal (Ms. Kerrie Russell) and a small number of support staff. Our most remote students are from Suplejack Downs, 760km along the Tanami Road, close to the WA border. This is the 3rd generation of this family to attend School of the Air. Children from the largest working cattle station in the world, Anna Creek Station joined the school. The closest students are just over 100kms away. Students in the same class are sometimes close to 2000kms apart. In 2019 we had 2 teachers based in the Aboriginal community of Corella Creek. We also have some students travelling with their families in the NT or inter state. This year one of our travelling families is in the Seychelles. Everyday they participate in class and see their class mates scattered throughout the Northern Territory. There are two students in Papua New Guinea and another in Fiji.
In 2020 the school has 121 students, 10 teachers, a Principal (Ms. Kerrie Russell) and a small number of support staff. Our most remote students are from Suplejack Downs, 760km along the Tanami Road, close to the WA border. This is the 3rd generation of this family to attend School of the Air. We also have children from the largest working cattle station in the world, Anna Creek Station attending the school. The closest students are 90kms away. Students in the same class are sometimes close to 2000kms apart. In 2020 we also have 2 teachers based in the Aboriginal community of Corella Creek. We have a few students travelling with their families in the NT, interstate and even overseas. These families are travelling for work. There are a number of international students in places such as the Seychelles, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, London and Saudi Arabia.
Whilst many schools have experienced a variety of challenges this year with students unable to attend school, here at School of the Air we have continued to teach our students remotely, just as we have for the last 69 years. Though we did have to cancel our in school week in term 2 which is sports week. In 2020 our sports day was held remotely. Everyone had a great deal of fun.
Schools from around the world have turned to School of the Air for advise in these unusual COVID times.
School of the Air and Alice Springs School of the Air will celebrate 70 years.
Whilst our offical birthday is 8 June, celebrations will be held here in Alice Springs in May. This will allow our remote families to participate during inschool week 17 - 22 May.