Voice of Real Australia: Isolation, home schooling not new for many parents

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by South Australian-based journalist Elizabeth Anderson.

FAMILY TIES: Isolated life can bring its perks, as well as challenges.

FAMILY TIES: Isolated life can bring its perks, as well as challenges.

Isolation is the buzzword at the moment, but what is life like for families that are genuinely geographically isolated?

For one, education plays out pretty differently.

If you live 100 kilometres from your nearest neighbour, there is a good chance there is no school nearby.

As a result, primary school-age children usually attend School of the Air (SOTA), which has separate operations in Broken Hill, NSW; Port Augusta, SA; Alice Springs, NT; and Derby, in the Kimberleys, WA.

At the Port Augusta SOTA, student numbers are increasing, despite the drought that has hit so many in its catchment hard.

I'm told this is partly due to a change in generation for station management, which has resulted in a "baby boom" among the pastoralists.

HOME CLASSROOM: Elke Kerin and Hayden Rankin are School of the Air students with the OAC Port Augusta Campus.

HOME CLASSROOM: Elke Kerin and Hayden Rankin are School of the Air students with the OAC Port Augusta Campus.

I think for most of us, when we think of SOTA - if we do at all - we still think of the radio, with the teacher at one end, and the students and supervising parents, usually a mother, at the other.

In the more than 60 years of the schools, the technology has changed a little, with more emphasis on computers and online components, but key elements remain the same.

New technology brings new challenges, such as patchy or expensive internet - although the nbn Sky Muster satellite has helped some of that.

There is also a lot of pressure placed on parents or an adult to be in the classroom, while the teacher is hundreds of kilometres away.

Some families employ governesses to take on this supervisory role, as was the case for NT station manager Amber Driver, while she was the main helicopter pilot on the property. But others have to make different choices and remain at home while jobs still need doing outside.

As with many other key jobs, it can be hard to find a consistent workforce in regional areas, and this is true for teachers, with the problem worsened as people live further out of town. In Queensland, the Isolated Children's Parent's Association has spoken about the problems in finding qualified language other than English teachers for mandatory classes.

At the SA ICPA state conference earlier this month, parents expressed concern about their children slipping through the cracks without adequate numbers of student support officers to assist students with learning difficulties.

Once students finish primary school, their choices for secondary schooling generally are boarding schools, which can be pretty expensive; the family moving away from a station and way of life that may have been in the family for decades; or splitting the family so one parent and the children move closer to schools while the other remains at home alone.

But station people are known for their resilience. Not only do they keep educating their children, but in some cases, even manage to find time to continue their own learning, as was the case with Kirsty Williams, outside Oodnadatta, SA.

Elizabeth Anderson,

Stock Journal journalist

More stuff happening around Australia ...