Queensland’s peak body helping isolated families in rural communities have emphasised the need for reliable internet coverage in the bush.
Natalie Kenny lives at a property between Charters Towers and Clermont about 200 kilometres from the closest town centre and said she relied heavily on online services.
Without the assistance of reliable internet, her seven-year-old son Will would not receive consistent speech and linguistic lessons.
“It would be a whole day out of our week and schooling if I had to travel into town to access this service, so it saves me the travel and Will gets what he needs,” she said.
The mother of four explained that prior to receiving the service Will lacked confidence and school was a struggle.
Mother-of-four Natalie Kenny says without access to online services she wouldn’t be able to use allied health services needed by her seven-year-old son, Will. (Supplied: Natalie Kenny)
“He was a good student, but he just couldn’t get the hang of things,” she explained.
“Confidence-wise it has been amazing, and we’ve seen him go from really struggling to becoming really positive about going into the classroom.”
Ms Kenny has been using SPOT rural, a linguistic program delivered online using video conferencing tools, for about 18 months.
Speech therapist, Heidi Begg, who started SPOT rural said having grown up on a rural property she was aware of the difficulties accessing services when living in remote communities.
“I grew up on a property between Bollon and Cunnamulla,” Ms Begg said.
“My eldest brother has Down syndrome, so we were always about a two-hour drive to the closest services for him … my mum always had to get things in the mail.
“That’s why I really decided to start SPOT rural … so kids could access services online and remotely.”
Internet a luxury in the bush
Reliable internet is not available for all Queenslanders.
The Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) have heard motions at the 47th annual state conference in Winton from Kindon and Blackall branches pushing for better online services in their districts.
“The only access to the internet is via a very unreliable and slow mobile tower that continually drops out,” the motion said.
“We would like to see NBN Sky Muster satellite investigated as an alternative option to unreliable mobile connectivity.”
ICPA Queensland president Kim Hughes and federal president Wendy Hick are calling on reliable online services in the bush. (ABC News: Aneeta Bhole)
Queensland state president Kim Hughes said it was important to make sure that rural and remote schools had better access.
“They’re the ones that need access to virtual classroom alternatives because for a lot of children face-to-face education isn’t available,” she said.
Ms Hughes said the Sky Muster program had been rolled out to remote schools in the satellite footprint and early feedback had been positive.
“The continuation of the Sky Muster installation in schools is really important and also the mobile blackspot program needs to ensure they are targeting rural and remote schools,” she said.
“If the only alternative is Sky Muster and the satellites, they need to have that available.
“Congestion is an issue so it’s something we really need to make sure people who have no other option can use it.”
Queensland ICPA branches met at Winton for the 47th annual state conference to discuss hot ticket issues. (ABC News: Aneeta Bhole)
Push for better troubleshooting
Federal ICPA president Wendy Hick said troubleshooting was a real concern for families.
“What we need to ensure is that the families that have this service in place, for their schooling, it is adequate and meets their needs,” she said.
“If things are going wrong we need a way to help people get things fixed quickly — especially families that are small rural schools doing distance education,” she said.
“I think the thing that’s encouraging about Sky Muster is we do have things in place such as NBN local so ICPA has direct connections.”
Queensland ICPA branches also discussed access to allied health and called for the reduction of students to teachers in multi-age classrooms in rural and remote communities.