Connection the key to remote learning

Friday, 24 April, 2020

Connection the key to remote learning

When educators needed to rapidly adapt to a shifting educational landscape, existing infrastructure limitations became immediately apparent. So too did the gaping chasm that is Australia’s digital divide.       

Among the seemingly infinite number of challenges arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the necessary tools and to reliable internet has been a high priority for many Australian parents and teachers, as the move to an exclusively online learning model became more likely in some states.  

For those families with appropriate equipment at home, that shift was relatively straightforward from a resourcing perspective. For many, however, a lack of suitable hardware and reasonable internet access made homeschooling a difficult — if not impossible — prospect. 

In a bid to even the playing field and make remote learning feasible for every child, state governments began aligning with service providers, including Telstra, to provide the tools and resources required.

Schools in Victoria have been using both online and offline education materials, but almost all children commenced Term 2 in ‘learn from home’ mode. To enable that shift, Minister for Education James Merlino sought to close the technology gap through the provision of loan equipment including over 43,000 laptop and tablet devices, as well as an initial allocation of 5000 SIM cards and internet dongles.That initial allocation received a subsequent bump-up, with a further 21,000 internet dongles delivered via an agreement between the Victorian Government and Telstra. 

Merlino said the initial allocation gave priority to senior students, those in bushfire-affected communities and families struggling to cover the cost of a home internet connection. But the move to keep all children at home and meet with the physical distancing recommendations required to slow the spread of coronavirus called for a broader implementation. 

“We’re making sure no child misses out on learning during this period, providing a device to every child that needs one as well as internet access to thousands of Victorian students,” Merlino said. 

In other states where a return to classroom attendance is the favoured approach, there is a concerted focus on provision of effective internet access. South Australian Education Minister John Gardner announced the second stage of a high-speed internet rollout, boosting the phase one efforts to incorporate preschools in addition to schools. Gardner said the project had been months in the making, but the pandemic had substantiated the inherent value in the project.

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of our students and educators having access to fast, reliable and safe technology to deliver modern learning,” Gardner said.

“Our school students, teachers and preschool educators across the state will now be able to access the applications and information they need, when they need them, with the assurance they are protected by a world-class security and content filtering system.”

Regardless of location, safe and reliable internet access is now the foundation of learning delivery. According to a recent ABC news report, as many as 2.5 million Australians lack access to the internet at home, with many families relying on public facilities such as libraries to deliver that all-important connection. The recent pandemic has shone a light on this troubling divide, with children in financially disadvantaged circumstances poised to fall behind in an environment that inherently impedes those already most at risk.

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