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Our Experience with Distance Education

Vanessa Whittaker, Exploring Approaches to Home Education Seminar, Adelaide 2008

We had needed to live in Victoria the year our eldest son was completing an 'Individualised Education Plan', at school for year 12. In talking to the high school near where we were going to be living, the recommendation was that we investigate the option of 'Distance Education'. In South Australia this is done through the Open Access College, based at Marden Secondary College, in Adelaide.

We were able to organize this prior to leaving South Australia. Due to our moving to interstate, it was easy to organize as our son's school counselor made the contact and completed the paperwork.

Our son chose his units of study, under the guidance of counselors at both schools. Some of the subjects he was doing at the school were not available through Open Access. During this process, I decided to study year 12 Geology, with Open Access, alongside our son.

All the text books, computer programs, science kit, in fact everything he/we needed was sent to us. It is necessary to have a computer and internet access as communication by email is constant and a hands-free speaker phone is useful as a conference phone lesson is conducted each week per unit or subject. Assignments are also submitted via email although some work may need to be posted by regular mail. We were provided with 'reply paid' envelopes of different sizes as well as labels to attach to packages of unusual sizes for when it was necessary to send things to the college.

The next step was to organise times for the conference call and to ensure it fit in with the schedule.. No crossover, etc. One of my problems was to ensure that my son was ready and prepared for his phone lesson. The student needs to be able to be organised, responsible and able to study independently. The time of the phone lesson needs to be respected and it is important not to book appointments for the same time as it adds pressure on the student, when there is a need to 'catch-up'.

I enjoyed this process for myself as it enabled me to study and still be available for my other responsibilities as a wife, mother etc. I was able to organise myself to do the study and have my assignments ready on time but my son struggled initially. However by the end of the year, he decided he had enjoyed studying this way and asked why hadn't it been suggested to him before. (Although, it had been. J )

We also needed to organise for a non-family member to monitor or 'invigilate' tests for some subjects. That was difficult as sometimes that person was not always available on the day it was necessary to complete the test.

The Open Access option is not necessarily available to everyone as there are criteria that need to be met. That includes distance from a school, illness that results in interrupted attendance at school, physical disabilities or mental health disorders. Sometimes a school is able to recommend a student studies a subject through Open Access if it is a subject not offered at their school due to the lack of teachers for a subject or because only a couple of students want to study a subject in a school.

There is also a cost to studying through Open Access. It depends on how many units (subjects) are being studied and there is a maximum so you pay no more than that - I hesitate to actually put on record a definitive figure, but approximately $50 per unit, per semester, is a guide.

I would recommend to families who want to investigate the option to educate through the Open Access College, that they first check the website to find out if they meet the criteria, and find out other relevant information. After doing that contact a counselor at the College for further information and to see if there may be other ways to utilize the services even if your child does not meet the criteria.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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