The central role that schools play in small isolated communities should see them a lay down misere when expansions of regional Australia’s mobile coverage footprint are planned.
That was the view of delegates to the federal Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association conference in Alice Springs, who voted to continue the lobby to relevant federal ministers to ensure that rural and remote schools are prioritised when any mobile coverage extension is contemplated.
The issue was brought up by the Balranald branch in New South Wales, which argued that most rural and remote schools were evacuation points in the event of emergencies in the area.
“Clare Public School is 155km from Balranald and consists of a school only,” the motion’s explanation read. “In the event of a bushfire, the school is the emergency evacuation point.”
Its prominent position makes it the custodian of the community Royal Flying Doctor Service medical chest and a defibrillator.
Mobile phone coverage cuts out around 120km from the school though.
The branch was supported by Queenslander and retiring federal councillor, Lynise Conaghan who illustrated the huge difference that a mobile black spot tower has made to the Clarke Creek school since it was installed in December 2015.
“Prior to this (mobile phone access), it would take our teacher up to 20 hours to download national curriculum links,” Lynise said.
Internet download speeds have increased from 3mbps to 34mbps, meaning that students can access Japanese lessons over the internet without delays or consistent interruptions to connectivity.
“When the school pool pump stopped, operating staff were able to take a photo on their phone, send it to the pool shop in Rockhampton, and get immediate feedback for repair,” Lynise said. “A 400km round trip saved, thanks to mobile telecommunications.”
Lynise also highlighted the advantage of having a mobile phone network for safety.
“When our school bus broke down, the driver was able to notify parents because she could ring them from her mobile phone,” she said.
“Before that she would have been stranded on the roadside, hoping that a passing vehicle might drive by to assist and raise the alarm to parents.”
The Balranald branch said that time and time again under current mobile black spot programs, they were seeing fringe areas being successful.
“We are yet to see a remote area in NSW that has a huge impact, such as a school, be successful,” they said.