Fears for school off the air

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Seven-year-old Flynn Ford enjoys his childhood growing up on Paroo Station.
Camera IconSeven-year-old Flynn Ford enjoys his childhood growing up on Paroo Station.

Teachers, parents and students have questioned the ability of the School of Isolated Distance Education to deliver quality education to children in remote areas.

Last week’s shock State Government announcement that Schools of the Air would close in 2019 has raised concerns the replacement SIDE service would deliver a second-class education.

Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association committee member Robin Pensini said the organisation disputed State Government claims the closure would eliminate service duplication.

Ms Pensini said students would be further disadvantaged by lack of teacher contact, face-to-face support, monitoring, socialisation, connection to the community, and the provision of full curriculum and learning programs would be modified.

But Labor MLC Darren West said regional students would enjoy a “seamless” transition to SIDE.

“I’m open to calling the new combined organisation School of the Air if that’s what people want,” he said.

Mr West said he did not like the concern the changes were causing SOTA users but was comfortable all education quality would not be compromised.

“The department was asked to identify savings, and that’s what they came up with,” he said.

“People impacted by the change have tendered a range of legitimate arguments, but I have not yet become aware of an objection that cannot be sorted,” he said

Nationals Member for North West Central Vince Catania helped organise rallies at Karratha, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie.

He said the McGowan Government was trying to wrap a $64 million cut to regional education and sell it remote families as a gift. “It is an empty box of hope,” he said.

Second generation Meekatharra pastoralists Jim and Fiona Ford, of Paroo Station, are educating their children using SOTA.

Mrs Ford said her children — Olivia, 15, Charlie, 13, and seven-year-old twins Isla and Flynn — enjoyed station life. “The family of SOTA is a whole school environment,” she said. “We live about 150km from the nearest town, and without the interaction, the kids get using the service they would lose those precious connections.”

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