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Our History

The School of the Air  - the first of its kind in the world!

Could you call the Australian outback home?  The weather is extreme and the land is as harsh as it is beautiful.  It calls for ingenuity, whether it be to fix a broken windmill or to educate your children.  Most of us only have to think about which school in the neighbourhood to send our children to, whereas parents living in remote Australia prior to the 1950's worried about how to educate their children at all. They relied on correspondence lessons sent to them by post from the South Australian Correspondence School which left parents trying to educate their children with little more help than a booklet.  

An idea turns into a legacy

Outback families owe much to the invention of the pedal radio by Alfred Traeger in 1929.  Not only did this new technology bring life-saving services like the Royal Flying Doctor but it helped families feel less isolated and more connected to each other and their family, friends and colleagues living in towns and cities. 

A visit to Alice Springs in 1944 by Miss Adelaide Miethke, a member of the Flying Doctor Service of South Australia, saw an idea hatch.  On a visit to a remote cattle station, she recognised the difficulties outback families were facing with correspondence lessons and that children were lacking social contact with their peers.  It occurred to her that the radio technology used by the Flying Doctors could help by enabling teachers to give lessons over the radio.

Miss Miethke suggested the idea and together with the Flying Doctor Service, the Northern Territory Education Department and Alice Springs Higher Primary School, set in motion the School of the Air in Alice Springs - the first of its kind in the world.

Special communications equipment had to be sent to remote families and permissions sought, but after a long wait a trial began in 1950.  A landline was laid from the Flying Doctor base in Alice Springs to the Alice Springs Higher Primary School and teachers volunteered their time to teach the radio lessons.  With fun and laughter, teachers took turns to present specially prepared scripts to Outback children with the help of radio staff and the Flying Doctor base. 

Visit us at Alice Springs School of the Air Experience to learn more Visit us at Alice Springs School of the Air Experience to learn more

World firsts and life-changing achievements

The trial was successful and the world's first School of the Air was officially opened on 8 June 1951. 

In the early years, there were three half-hour lessons each week. Children listened to lessons without being able to ask questions or talk to their teacher, much like a lecture delivered over the radio waves. Teachers soon realised that students needed interaction and a question and answer segment was introduced.

In 1953, Molly Ferguson took over as the leader of the broadcasting team and became the sole teacher for the School of the Air in 1954, when the School moved to the base of Anzac Hill (now the Youth Hub) and had a purpose-built broadcast studio with an observation area.  Ms. Ferguson pioneered the first few years of School of the Air and organised the first get-together in 1955, when 30 School of the Air students, ranging in age from 5 - 15 years, congregated in Alice Springs.  Molly was awarded the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her work with the School of the Air in that year, and retired to get married.

Mrs. Margaret Stiller became the new teacher in 1955 and two extra lessons were added to help secondary school students.  It was an exciting year for many families as the school library was started and borrowed books were posted out to students.  Imagine living in outback Australia in the mid 1950's without access to books - let alone the internet!  It was a welcome initiative and a vital part of our students education!

You can support our school library here You can support our school library here

New developments, visiting dignitaries and more teachers!

Many developments took place over the coming years with the first excursion to Adelaide in 1957 (with 18 students and 4 adults), the first patrol visiting students in 1960, and numerous teachers coming and going.  1974 saw Alice Springs School of the Air become completely autonomous and all students’ families were given transceivers and the school its own frequency.  The School also had enough students to justify a teacher for each year level!

In 1978, School of the Air moved to its current location on Head Street in Alice Springs, with a specially built studio and 13 teachers. In 1996, the school was extended to include a new Visitor Centre.  The year 2000 saw the School start to use the internet and they had a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II!  By 2006, the school was completely reliant on satellite technology and in 2021 it celebrated its 70th birthday. 

Learn more about the changes over time in technology here Learn more about the changes over time in technology here

This timeline tells the story of the Alice Springs School of the Air from 1944 to today

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Miss Adelaide Miethke, a member of the Council of the Flying Doctor Service (FDS) of South Australia, suggests the idea of using two-way radio to give educational talks to children in the outback. Discussions between Mr RG Pitts (Director of the FDS service in Alice Springs), Mr L Dodd (Assistant Supervisor of Education in the Northern Territory), headmaster of Alice Springs Higher Primary School) and Miss Adelaide Miethke pursued the early development of the School of the Air, the first of its kind in the world.

After a long wait for special communications equipment, a trial program begins. Teachers at Alice Springs Primary High School volunteer to conduct radio lessons. A landline is laid from the Flying Doctor base to the Hartley Street School. Teachers take turns to present the specially prepared scripts to outback children with the help of radio staff at the flying doctor base

On 8th June the School of the Air was officially opened at the Flying Doctor Base. Mr. Kissell of the Alice Springs Primary Higher School is the leader of the broadcasting team. At first lessons are a one-way affair, but soon a question and answer time was added to the end of each broadcast. Sometimes a microphone was taken into one of the classrooms at the school and the outback children could listen in to specially prepared lessons or dramatisations. Three half-hour sessions were broadcast each week.

Miss Molly Ferguson takes over as leader of the broadcasting team

The School of the Air now operates from the current Anzac Hill High School site in a purpose built broadcast studio with an observation area. Miss Molly Ferguson becomes the sole teacher for School of the Air.

The first “get-together” week is held in May with 30 children attending aged from 5-15 years. The Get-Together is held at the Alice Springs Higher Primary School during the school holiday break. Miss Molly Ferguson is awarded the MBE for her work at School of the Air. She retires to get married.

Mrs Margaret Stiller becomes the School of the Air teacher. Two extra radio sessions are added to help the secondary students and closer links are made with the correspondence work. The school library gets underway and books are posted out to students.

The first excursion for School of the Air students. Mrs Stiller with 4 other adults takes 18 students to Adelaide for 3 weeks.

Mrs Nancy Barrett is employed to replace Mrs Stiller who has to retire due to ill health

Mrs Barrett embarks on the first official ‘patrol’. She uses her own car and is away for a week at a time visiting as many stations as she can in one direction, spending half a day at each and staying at a different station each night. The ‘patrols’ were so successful that the Commonwealth Government went on to provide the vehicles and the expenses for future patrols

Mr David Ashton becomes the School of the Air teacher. He goes on patrol four times a year for 1-2 weeks each time

School of the Air moves to the Flying Doctor Base, it is located in a demountable here until 1977. A second teacher, Mrs Judy Hodder is employed to take the younger children and to provide relief for the teacher on patrol. Students are still receiving and returning work to the South Australian correspondence school where it is marked before being returned to the students.

Alice Springs School of the Air becomes completely autonomous. It is now the correspondence school for Central Australia. All families are given transceivers and the school now has its own frequencies. Correspondence work is sent out to students, marked and returned from Alice Springs. There are now enough students to have a teacher for each class. Patrols are made by the class teachers to each of their students once a year. The first supervisors’ conference is organised by Mr David Ashton and is attended by 25 supervisors.

The School of the Air logo is designed by Mrs Val Whalen, ASSOA teacher & librarian.

The first aerial patrol takes place. In 1991 a quarter of all patrols are carried out by air.

Operation begins from our current location here in Head Street although teachers still had to travel to the RFDS base for radio broadcasts

Official opening of the Head Street school. The radio broadcasts are made from the specially built studio. There are now 13 teachers at the school and 3 administration staff.

Alice Springs School of the Air is issued with its first patrol vehicle, a 4WD Toyota Landcruiser

The library trailer takes the mobile library to the students, however this had to be discontinued after it was deemed not viable.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana visit the school

The first “In school” week was held. This was organised by Mrs Eileen Kennedy for her year 3 class. It was so successful that it has become an annual event for all classes.

Margaret Thatcher visits the school. The Bicentennial Quilt is made to commemorate the bicentenary of Australia

40th birthday celebrations with Mr Christopher Brocklebank, artist in residence

A trial program for indigenous students is held. A major radio upgrade is commenced. The preschool to Year 3 course preparation is completed. Satellite televisions via Imparja are trialed. Toshiba laptops are trialed with the senior classes. Under principal Mr Ed Boyd, communications technology takes off and becomes a major focus from 1992 onwards.

Quick-mail is introduced. New phones and a facsimiles are installed. Four computers are made available to students in years 6 and 7.

An extension is completed providing the Head Street building with a new visitor centre, a larger teacher preparation area and more storage space. Computers are made available to students in years 4-7.

The new Visitor Centre was officially opened and a full time Manager appointed.

Mr Tony Richards is employed to set up internet access, email and web services (MOASS) to School of the Air families. The use of email becomes an important communications tool, especially for older students.

The Alice Springs School of the Air intranet is online. Queen Elizabeth II visits the school.

Alice Springs School of the Air celebrates its 50th birthday. Christopher Brocklebank is the Artist in Residence. The 50th Birthday Mural Wall is officially publicised. Steve Bobos (Principal) engages in discussions with the Federal Government on the provision of an alternative to radio for the delivery of live lessons. Dr William Newman recruited to evaluate and drive the move to alternative technologies.

The Federal government provides 14.4Million in the form of the National Communications Fund 44 (NCF44) to Optus to provide the One Touch Interactive service to Distance Education Schools in NSW and the Northern Territory. The first roll out of Interactive Distance Learning (IDL) began, using satellite & broadband technologies.

The school coins the term IDL (Interactive Distance Learning) which encompasses the technology and associated pedagogies assorted with real time distance teaching using the new technologies. Main radio studio converted to an IDL Studio; radio lessons continue in second studio with radio lessons happening at the same time as IDL classes (via broadband satellite internet).

At the beginning of the year the school changes to a Northern Territory developed product, REACT (Remote Education and Conferencing Tool) in all studios. In December the last radio lesson is delivered.

The Education department develops it’s own proprietary satellite network (STARS).

What was the second radio studio is transformed into a second IDL studio.

Alice Springs School of the Air celebrated its 60th birthday during In-School week with students, families & friends.

In June, Dr William Newman is charged with the establishment of a Middle Years Program offering years 7, 8 and 9.

In 2013 the school had 140 students, 16 teachers, a Principal (Ms. Belinda Pearson) and a small number of support staff. The students are from as far north in the NT as Gregory National Park and over the border to the south, in SA. The closest student is just over 60kms away and the furthest in the NT is 1467kms. Students in the same class are sometimes over 1900kms apart. In 2013 we provide teaching services to three Aboriginal communities (Corella Creek, Mulga Bore & Bonya). We also have some students only doing correspondence with us (they don’t have satellite dishes & computers), their parents are contractors and the families travel a lot in NT. There are two students in Papua New Guinea.

Third studio is opened

In 2018 the school had 104 students, 13 teachers, a Principal (Ms. Kerrie Russell) and a small number of support staff. Our students are from as far north in the NT as Maningrida and over the border to the south, in SA, west into WA and east into QLD. The closest student is just about 75kms away and the furthest in the NT are over 1200kms. Students in the same class are sometimes over 1700kms apart. In 2018 we had 2 teachers based in the Aboriginal community of Corella Creek. We also have some students travelling with their families.  These students may not participate in IDL lessons as they down load their lessons when internet is available. Their parents are contractors and the families travel a lot in NT. There are two students in Papua New Guinea.

In 2019 Fourth studio is opened. The school had 101 students, 11 teachers, a Principal (Ms. Kerrie Russell) and a small number of support staff. Our most remote students are from Suplejack Downs, 760km along the Tanami Road, close to the WA border.  This is the 3rd generation of this family to attend School of the Air.  Children from the largest working cattle station in the world, Anna Creek Station joined the school. The closest students are just over 100kms away. Students in the same class are sometimes close to 2000kms apart. In 2019 we had 2 teachers based in the Aboriginal community of Corella Creek. We also have some students travelling with their families in the NT or inter state. This year one of our travelling families is in the Seychelles.  Everyday they participate in class and see their class mates scattered throughout the Northern Territory. There are two students in Papua New Guinea and another in Fiji.

During COVID lockdowns, Alice Springs School of the Air is called upon by many schools around the world to help develop their remote learning capabilities.

Facilitating daily contact between students, home tutors and teachers,
the school has always strived to find new and better ways of enriching the education of
Australia’s most remote children.

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