Providing rural and regional schools access to the best digital teaching and learning tools
- Delivery of a minimum device-to-student ratio of 1:4 across more than 200,000 students (increasing access from a previous ratio of 1:6).
- More than 12,000 teachers across approximately 1,000 NSW public schools will soon have access to a portable device to help them build digital skills, access student data and streamline lesson planning.
- Support a total of around 5000 FTE jobs, including 1786 local jobs created directly by the Rural Access Gap project capital spending
- Contribute $1.08 billion gross output to the NSW economy
Rural and remote schools have a variety of unique needs due to their location. Core challenges include remoteness and isolation, economic hardship, skills shortages, and limited access to disability services.
Outdated distance education technologies, fire impacts and remediation challenges make for a disparity in opportunity between metropolitan and rural education. The schools' isolation from digital services needed intervention to bridge the gap.
The Digital Restart Fund's investment is helping to do just that; driving more opportunity to regional areas through connectivity, devices and digital services.
Key benefits of the program:
- Increase a sense of belonging by reducing isolation, contributing to wellbeing
- Support academic achievement by giving students access to the best teachers and learning resources across the state, no matter where they are
- Increase equity in the system by addressing the drivers of disadvantage affecting regional remote areas
- Address the vital school infrastructure needs for remote, regional distance education.
Rural and remote schools are already benefitting from the scheme. Performance data is showing that the gap is being bridged between metro and rural education. Attendance rates are higher, student engagement has increased with parents and carers more connected than ever before. Stronger, more responsive and reliable distance education platforms have been delivered. With quality and accessible teaching resources, expert digital support and training, and a reduction in administrative burden.
In FY20-21, the scheme ran Release 1 of a pilot program and proof of concept at Dubbo Public School with great success.
Device-to-student ratio increase
- increased student devices
- new dedicated teacher portable devices
- new Main Learning Displays (interactive displays)
Dedicated support and local jobs
Funding for a Digital Classroom Officer for four terms contributed to the overall success of digital services and new devices. The Digital Support Team (DST) provides needs-based support to schools at all stages of digital maturity, and tailored assistance to make the most of the digital opportunities available to them.
Mentoring, advice and guidance from a dedicated Digital Learning Advisor as part of the Rural Access Gap Digital Support Team ensured that the school and students were supported.
Investing in these support mechanisms creates local jobs in rural and remote areas.
"The appointment of a DCO at the school has been absolutely amazing. It's about having that person on the ground, being able to support our teachers and students. Robyn Veugen is actually our librarian as well. She has one day release a week. During that day, she accesses professional learning. She also goes into classrooms and mentors our teachers."
- Debbie Pritchard, Principal at Dubbo Public School
Prior to upgrade, the school had a 50Mbps WAN and 100Mbps internet service, this was increased as part of Telstra upgrade to 100Mbps WAN and 3,000Mbps internet service. This is an increase of 1967%.
"It seems such a little thing, being able to connect to Wi-Fi, but it was such a big deal for us. And when we heard that we were going to be connected up and have our system improved, it was like a whole weight was lifted off our shoulders, and at last we could access the things that we wanted to access." - Debbie Pritchard, Principal at Dubbo Public School
There will be an increase in new devices and tailored digital support across the state. These will enable teachers to streamline lesson planning and will open up opportunities for greater collaboration, and personalised flexible learning. The program aims to deliver a minimum device-to-student ratio of 1:4 across more than 200,000 students (increasing access from a previous ratio of 1:6).
In the future, the project will look to further reduce the admin for rural and remote schools, continue to progressively uplift educational outcomes and tackle sociogenic disadvantage for metropolitan schools.
Success through Covid-19
The work of the Rural Access Gap scheme demonstrated continuous success during the delays of Covid-19. The project delivered rapid outcomes to communities through a range of connectivity, hardware and sustained support.
"The department has an obligation to NSW for equal opportunity, through these services, better educational outcomes for everyone is the long game" - Department of Education