For many of us living in metropolitan areas of NSW, having access to reliable and fast internet to do our jobs or to learn in classrooms is expected, and often taken for granted. But for those living in remote or regional areas of the state, this is a dream that would transform their daily lives.
Located in a valley surrounded by the Macdonald and the Hawkesbury Rivers, Macdonald Valley is a very isolated area with steep sandstone cliffs and a meandering river … and a population of just 260 people.
At the heart of the town, Macdonald Valley Public School has only one class for its 13 students from kindergarten to year 6 enrolled in 2022 … as well as chickens, a flourishing vegie patch and plenty of space to run around.
Due to its remote location, teachers and students don’t have the same access to digital technologies, resources and internet connectivity that schools in metropolitan areas of the state have.
Until recently, the school has been operating with limited connectivity via satellite, resulting in variable connections and dropouts. This was further hampered by sharing capacity with other nearby schools, as well as unfavourable weather conditions.
“As this is an isolated area, we depend on our internet access to make connections with other schools and programs, because we can't just jump on a bus for an excursion in the same way that other schools can,” said Melissa Date, former teaching principal of Macdonald Valley Public School.
“Parents were concerned about how the lack of reliable connectivity was going to impact their children's learning. It also made my job as a teaching principal a bit slower - it just meant really careful planning, preparation and readiness, and just knowing that there would be days where we'd have to do things the old-fashioned way.”
Major milestone for Macdonald Valley
October 2021 heralded a significant milestone for the Macdonald Valley Public School, thanks to the NSW Department of Education’s Rural Access Gap program and funding from the Digital Restart Fund.
Following the recent Telstra upgrade that saw the school’s internet connectivity increase from 10Mbps to 100Mbps, the Rural Access Gap program delivered the following for Macdonald Valley Public School:
- Upgraded Wi-Fi infrastructure to the latest Department of Education network standards, ensuring each student has access to a minimum of 5Mbps connectivity.
- Two new student devices in addition to what they already have.
- Students can now more easily achieve educational milestones.
- 2022 will further deliver upgrades to two of its learning spaces with interactive learning displays.
- A group of children using a computer
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While Date oversaw the connectivity upgrade at Macdonald Valley Public School, new principal Sarah Allen said: "It has been great to come to a rural school and find that the internet service is on a par with the schools in Sydney. It is so important to be able to quickly access materials for learning; it keeps the motivation of the students and staff high, so we are encouraged to use the internet more often to provide rich learning experiences."
Giving remote and rural education a digital boost
Supported by $365.8 million from the Digital Restart Fund, the NSW Government will continue to roll out the Rural Access Gap program to hundreds of additional rural, regional and remote schools in 2022.
The students and teachers of rural, remote and regional NSW will continue to benefit immensely, impacting 16,000 teaching staff, 217,000 students and 6,500 admin support staff across 1,003 schools by mid-2023.