For decades distance education in Australia has been limited to those geographically isolated persons living in remote areas or whose circumstances prevent them from regularly attending school, a policy which is still held by the NSW Department of Education.
In the last decade, the emergence of online schooling, along with homeschooling, has fueled an increasing concern amongst Australian parents as to the quality and safety of public schooling.
Distance learning is sparking the interest of many parents seeking to find an affordable and practical alternative to their child’s education, which meets registered curriculum standards while providing a pathway to university.
Although distance schooling is a growing worldwide phenomenon, Australia is leading the way in terms of the speed in which online studies’ have gained popularity.
Key differences between distance education and homeschooling
Homeschooling has shared a similar growth in popularity with distance learning other the years, becoming the preferred alternative to parents who want to take a more hands-on approach in their child.
It is a legal requirement in Australian states and territories to register and obtain approval to homeschool your child. Children commence their school at the age of 6 and complete at the age of 17 years.
By parents registering their children for homeschooling, they assume the responsibility for the child in his or her home. Strict adherence to the Department of Education’s guidelines is required.
Parents desiring to homeschool their children must submit a plan detailing how they plan to approach and adhere to the national curriculum standards. Parents can choose an existing program or develop their own.
In Australia, there are approximately 20,000 students currently homeschooling, and this number is growing annually. In 2013, more than 1,100 students were homeschooled in Queensland, and by 2018, this number had grown to 3,232 students.
In New South Wales, the figures were even higher, with over 4,700 students enrolled in homeschool in 2017 compared to 3,300 in 2013. Further south, in Victoria, the number of students being homeschooled rose from 3,545 children in 2013 to 5,300 in 2018 according to the Victorian and Registrations Authority. However, homeschooling has its challenges and requires a significant commitment by parents and a disciplined approach by their children.
If you would like more information on homeschooling, check the NESA website.
Although conducted in the comfort of your home, distance schooling is very different from homeschooling, with students benefiting from the direct supervision of registered teachers who prepare lessons and ensure strict adherence to the national curriculum.
Before the emergence of the internet, distance schooling between teacher and student typically involved contact with your teacher by way of a 2-way radio or telephone and mail correspondence. Today, with the prevalence of the internet and the technological benefits it delivers has meant that now presents far greater implicant to a broader student audience than ever before. The beneficial impacts to be had through the advances through online learning is yet to be fully embraced by regulatory authorities.
Those that can substantially benefit from distance education are;
- geographic isolation
- students with medical or special needs
- students traveling within Australia or overseas
- vocationally talented students
- inability to access a suitable public school
- unable to afford a private education
- personal belief or concern.
Let’s now look at the key benefits of distance learning when compared to traditional education.
Key benefits of distance education over traditional education
The reasons as to what prompts one to choose distance education over traditional education vary for every family and goes beyond the realms of just geographic isolation.
External to the challenge of living in a remote location, individual health or personal circumstances, family work commitments, and travel are the most cited reasons as to why distance type of schooling is steadily on the rise.
Recently distance type of schooling has seen a significant rise in popularity in areas where public schooling options are readily available. An emotionally strong point for many parents occurs when their home falls within a designated school zone, which the parents feel is unsuitable for their child.
In Australia, no recourse is available in the public education system to enable you to send your child to a school choice. Parents may cite concerns that the school may have a negative, ill-effect on their child’s upbringing with some citing religious or safety concerns. In these circumstances, other than seeking private one, which often is out of the reach of most families, homeschooling or distance learning are the only options, and may I say, can be your best option.
Here are some reasons why distance education is increasing in popularity;
Distance schooling offers a student the flexibility to study at a time and place that is convenient for your child. For children who participate in elite sports, it provides them with the ability to train and study at a time suitable for their needs while meeting the Australian curriculum requirements.
For students who are less mobile or suffer from other disabilities, studying online enables them to receive the care they need in the comfort of their own home without compromising their needs.
Families whose work commitments require frequent travel interstate or internationally, benefit from a reliable and consistent source of education, build teacher and student relationships through their online school community.
Personal beliefs or safety
Over the past few decades, significant changes have occurred in public opinion and beliefs in the community, which is in recent times conflicting with those with strong Christian or other religious beliefs.
More recently, distance learning has now become available through established Christian schools and is now seen by some as the preferred option to homeschooling, especially for families who are time-poor.
Parents are becoming increasingly aware of the threat of violence and drugs within our school system in some communities in which online schooling provides an additional layer of protection, shielding your child from bullying and bad influences during their education.
Immersive and interactive education
Online learning tools provide a real-world and engaging learning experience for students enabling them to share their opinions and reflect that they have learned at their own pace. Students have the opportunity to build friendships with students their age and discuss their interests. An inspirational example of how some private schools are adapting to meet the needs of online learning is the www.acc.edu.au website, a great place to start if you are looking for information on online distance education.
Challenges to distance education
Without a doubt, this type provides students with a unique opportunity to study at their own pace; however, distance type is not for everyone.
Here are some of the challenges;
What determines if distance education is right for your child will depend greatly on your reasons behind considering its viability in the first place.
Children who participate in elite sports or the arts often find opportunities to broaden friendships through participation in their chosen field further. Some may find forming bonds online challenging and develop feelings of isolation.
The requirements of distance education are no less demanding than if attending any public or private school. Although flexibility is one of the many benefits, online learning none-the-less requires strict adherence to all aspects of the curriculum.
Students are provided with excellent online support; the challenges for some students are getting used to knowing when it’s time to ask for help, your teachers will be more than happy to assist.
How much does distance education cost?
In Australia, distance education is needs-based and typically offered to those living in remote areas. However, distance education is growing in popularity as an alternative to homeschooling; you can find more information about this here.
As provided through the Department of Education, this type is free. Another emerging trend is private online distance learning, offering a more disciplined and targeted approach to students with varying needs such as those living in remote areas or who have sporting goals or disabilities.
Christian distance learning offers all the benefits of a registered curriculum with the support and online interaction with other students who have Christian based beliefs. With school fees starting from as low as $885 – $2,110 per annum and discounts for each additional child – distance education is now within reach of the majority of parents.
As a parent with two young children concerned about the growing negative influences within state-run school systems, distance education provides a welcome option for students to learn in a cohesive and safe environment in the presence of family.
Your decision and that of your child to seek an alternative to the public school system is an important one, and one I’m sure will yield beneficial results for you and your child.