Monday, May 16, 2016

Day 18 - May 13th: Alice Springs

Today our guide Miles took us to four places in and around Alice Springs. Our first stop was the Royal Flying Doctor Service where we learned shout the history and purpose of the organization. It started in the early part of the 20th century as a means to provide emergency medical help to people living in the vast reaches of the Australian Outback. Without this, it would take hours sometimes days for those living in large cattle stations and in remote Aboriginal communities to receive medical attention.  In addition to saving lives, the RFDS currently makes it feasible for families to still live in the Outback and raise their children there.

Next we visited Desert Park which is a combination zoo and botanical garden in a natural setting nestled at the foot of the MacDonnell ranges. The park is beautifully integrated into its surroundings and it really does feel like one is walking through the desert.  In addition to plants, aviaries and the requisite kangaroo enclosure there was an excellent nocturnal house where we got to see the the shy and highly endangered Mala (a small wallaby) and the antenna eared bilby.  A few students also attended a presentation on Aboriginal medicine and plants.

After lunch we headed to Telegraph Station where we were on the sight of the original Alice Springs and saw the 'spring' which gave the town it's name.  The town actually started as a stop on the Overland Telegraph until the gold rush brought more people to the area.

Our last visit was a favorite of many in the group - the Alice Springs School of Air.  Like the RFDS the idea behind the School of Air, which began in the mid twentieth century using radios to communicate, was to bring educational services to children of families living in the Outback.  At the start of the 21st century the School began using the Internet to conduct lessons, a huge leap in technology which allowed for real time communication and more importantly feedback. It also allows students to see the teachers and other students in their virtual classroom. The whole endeavor is funded by the Australian government. Each student that is enrolled in the school receives supplies, computer, scanner, printer and a satellite connection so that the communication is reliable. 

The area covered by Alice Springs had 120 students currently enrolled from pre-K through 9th grade. After 9th grade the students have to either attend a boarding school or complete the rest of their schooling through a correspondence course.  Twice a year all the students get together for school week where they get to physically meet their teachers and the other students in their classroom. We saw examples of the students' work and the classroom in which the lessons are recorded and relayed. 

What an awesome idea. After visiting this and the RFDS I couldn't help but wonder how these concepts could be replicated in other places, especially developing countries. Of course that would require stable, uncorrupt governments and resources including a substantial tax base but that's a topic for another time.  

Tomorrow we leave for the Red Centre at 5:30 a.m. and four days of camping. A lot of excitement and perhaps a little apprehension is in the air.

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