I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Making it work

While in Alice Springs, we also visited two of the institutions that made Australian life away from the large population centers on the coasts possible -- the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air.

The sheep, and especially cattle, stations in Australia's interior are enormous, thousands of square miles in size; the largest, in South Australia, is almost the size of New Hampshire. When you live on one of these behemoths, your closest neighbors are probably at least a hundred miles away.

The Flying Doctor service is exactly what you'd expect. They have a fleet of planes and they go out to do routine exams and preventive services, and bring patients in for treatment of medical emergencies. They also provide medical kits to the stations containing antibiotics and other prescription medications that the station families or staff can be directed to take by phone or radio.

The School of the Air has been providing classes for rural families since 1951. Lessons used to be conducted by radio, with written assignments and homework sent by mail (or the Flying Doctors); now it's all done over the internet, with classes resembling your average corporate teleconference, except interesting. Every child is required to have someone, either a parent or a tutor, on site to work with outside of the electronic lessons, and being a tutor is a popular option for teenagers who want to take a gap year before university.

The kids in the various schools -- there are sixteen -- meet in person a few times a year, and once they reach high school age they usually go off to boarding school to finish their basic schooling. It's a fascinating system, especially since it seems to work so well and no one has managed to break it. Yet. 

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