Cairns School of Distance Education marks five decades of remote north Queensland learning

Zoe Thomas
By Zoe Thomas
March 10 2022 - 9:00pm
CSDE principal Andrew Oliver. Photo: Zoe Thomas.

Cairns School of Distance Education (CSDE) is celebrating 50-years of providing remote learning to the children of remote north Queensland.

The school was first established in 1972 and will mark its five decade tenure this year.

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Formerly known as Cairns School of the Air, the school was first established with a total of 11 students offering HF radio lessons to children enrolled with the Primary Correspondence School in Brisbane.

This school provided paper based learning materials to students who were geographically isolated.

Cairns School of the Air was officially renamed Cairns School of Distance Education in 1990.

A former CSDE student taking class over the HF radio. Photo: Cairns School of Distance Education.

During this period, the teachers formerly attached to the Itinerant Teaching Service, who travelled to remote areas to provide support and tutoring for students, were relocated to the staff of the Cairns school to assist with field support.

Current CSDE principal, Andrew Oliver, said the remote learning schools across the state were built in partnership with different Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) bases with the Cairns school previously located at the Edge Hill station.

"Originally they were set up for kids living in geographically isolated areas and communities," Mr Oliver said.

"There may have also been some itinerant workers who were on trawlers or fencers who would move around on properties."

Moving into the 21st-century, the school has adapted to the changes in modern technology offering learning for prep to year 12 students.

"In the last decade or so we've been asked to diversify," Mr Oliver said.

"We now support a lot of students in regional and rural remote schools who need access to certain subjects.

"At the core of what we do is looking after the kids with limited choices - the geographically isolated, the medical or the itinerant."

Old equipment used to support HF radio lessons. Photo: Zoe Thomas.

CSDE works closely with other remote and regional schools to offer alternative subjects that may not be available or timetable clashes.

"We offer services to 300-plus partner schools," Mr Oliver said.

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"We teach seven languages, so there's options if kids want to do French, German or Italian, and we teach over 30 senior subjects."

"We offer an array of services to support state schools across Queensland."

Whilst most of the teaching takes place online, CSDE also offers a specialist program for local children that are at risk or vulnerable.

Mr Oliver said the learning takes place in a face-to-face capacity.

"We try to build up their confidence, their resilience and their capability," he said.

"So that they can transition to a school environment, stay with us or go into the workforce."

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Mr Oliver said the online learning occurs across three different levels.

"There is online learning with their teacher, recorded lessons if students are unable to make live lessons or work through at self-paced," he said.

"At times for senior year levels we will send out papers to those who are on remote and rural properties.

"There are still technological issues, the internet may become patchy or they can't get a technician out for two weeks, so what do we do with that?"

The online learning courses utilise a 'Blackboard' platform, which Mr Oliver said is common within university programs.

"It helps support the transition into university and higher education," he said.

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"It develops students' independent learning skills, technological skills, and their capabilities to form relationships and partnerships with people online, which is invaluable for networking."

A music lesson in action. Photo: Cairns School of Distance Education.

With strong local partnerships, the school also participates in the annual Cairns to Karumba charity bike ride to support the smaller regional and rural schools along the route.

CSDE will celebrate their upcoming 50th anniversary in late May with an open afternoon event and formal dinner for students and their families.

Mr Oliver said he hoped students would leave CSDE with the skills, knowledge and attitude to pursue their dreams.

"It's about giving everyone a fair go," he said.

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"The heart of what we do is that everyone is on a level playing field and we build up their capabilities in a digital modern world.

"You can be anything you want to be, anywhere you want to be."

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Zoe Thomas

Zoe Thomas

Journalist - North Queensland Register/Queensland Country Life

Northern based journalist at North Queensland Register and Queensland Country Life.

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