Now that students are back in the classroom, joyous sighs of relief from many teachers, students and parents are resonating across NSW after a very challenging four months of online schooling.
Ultimately, success depended on having access to the right digital technologies, resources and internet connectivity to make it happen and a lot of patience from busy parents!
But for many schools in rural, remote and regional areas of the state, this wasn't the case. A gap exists between rural and metropolitan schools when it comes to having access to these tools and resources.
Empowering students, teachers and schools with faster internet connectivity and digital teaching and learning tools is at the heart of the program. This will enable them to achieve educational milestones regardless of where they live.
Dubbo leads the way
With more than 500 students, Dubbo Public School was one of the first 29 schools to participate in a $20 million Rural Access Gap pilot across Dubbo, Narrabri and Northern Border regions and is already reaping the rewards after a much-needed digital boost just in time for lockdown.
Principal Debbie Pritchard said the Rural Access Gap program has been a game changer in the way the school is able to teach students.
'I have been in the game for over 30 years and technology has been a large part of that, especially in more recent years,'Pritchard said. 'It's only since this new Rural Access Gap initiative has come through that I've really seen some ground gained in technology and the availability of digital technology in schools.
Dubbo Public School experienced an almost 2,000 percent increase in internet connectivity speed, with dedicated student and teacher devices transforming the way teachers plan and deliver lessons and assessments for students both in class and online during COVID-19.
'It seems such a little thing being able to connect to Wi-Fi, but it was such a big deal for us,'said Pritchard. 'When we heard that we were going to be connected and have our systems improved, a whole weight lifted off our shoulders. At last, we could access the things we wanted to.
The Rural Access Gap program has delivered the following for Dubbo Public School:
- A Telstra upgrade to 100Mbps WAN and 3,000Mbps internet connectivity, increasing 1,967 percent from its previous 50Mbps WAN and 100Mbps internet service.
- Each student has more than 5Mbps (on average) of network connectivity for online learning and other digital opportunities for a more engaging school experience.
- 43 student devices.
- 28 dedicated teacher portable devices.
- 27 new interactive learning displays.
- Mentoring, advice and guidance from a dedicated Digital Learning Advisor as part of the Rural Access Gap Digital Support Team.
- Funding for a Digital Classroom Officer for four terms.
'Our new Wi-Fi connectivity and supply of devices has really streamlined our teaching processes and given us access to so many more resources... Already I can see the excitement in the students and teachers in our classrooms.'
Giving rural education a digital boost
What has been achieved in Dubbo is a significant step. However, it's only the first step in closing the digital education divide across NSW.
The NSW Government will continue to roll out the Rural Access Gap program to hundreds of additional rural, regional and remote schools, with further funding to be allocated by the Digital Restart Fund over the next 12 months.
The students and teachers of rural, remote and regional NSW will continue to benefit immensely, impacting 13,000 teaching staff, 220,000 students and 6,500 admin support staff across 1,004 schools.