“We honestly could not believe how many boxes of books kept arriving – it was astounding,” says Esther Kerr, Learning Support Coordinator at the Kimberley School of the Air, based in Derby, WA.
The Kimberley School of the Air covers the largest area of all the Schools of the Air, reaching from the far north-western coast of WA, down to the edge of the Pilbara region and across to Kununurra, just 45 kilometres from the NT border. Its small staff teach children living in the remote Indigenous communities of Bidan, Kandiwal, Purnululu and Yulumbu, as well as on far flung cattle stations.
In days gone by, lessons were delivered by the “wireless” – radio. Now, an online platform is used. However, some of the Indigenous communities are unable to run generators during the day, which means teaching on air is out of the question. Instead, school is by correspondence, and classwork is posted out, with mail deliveries being either weekly or fortnightly.
Apart from school lessons, in either format, the Kimberley School of the Air dispatches packages of books from ILF’s Book Supply program to these remote-living kids. These books are carefully selected to meet the interests of each student, and sent a few at a time in order to develop a “school library” in each home or classroom, which in some communities is a dedicated “donga”.
“Having high quality books, that are suitable for a range of reading abilities, is invaluable in the remote communities that we reach. They are often too ‘cut off’ for us to reach at many times of the year [for instance, during the rainy Wet season] and building a classroom/school library with these books is a fantastic resource for the children and home tutors.”
Esther says the children are always excited to receive the new books and often spend much of their school day sharing them with each other.
“It’s so lovely to see the kids using them in this way … Enjoying books is the first step in literacy development.”
Kimberley School of the Air works with the school-age children four days a week, Monday to Thursday. Fridays are set aside for an on-air playgroup, with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers from across the region taking part, along with their parents or carers. Library packs of ILF books are also sent to these youngsters, to help develop early pre-literacy skills. The Aboriginal Education Officer works with Esther to deliver these half-day sessions, which include reading the books on air and talking to the kids about the illustrations in them.
“The [picture and board] books are beautiful, just perfect … We can’t wrap our heads around how amazing they are … Especially the ones in language.”
Pre-COVID, the staff at Kimberley School of the Air also visited each family or community twice a year to supplement the distance education with some hours of face-to-face teaching. With restrictions inside WA now beginning to lift, Esther is hopeful that these visits can be resumed next term.
“Some families have been stuck in isolation since the beginning of the Wet back in November. Just as roads were starting to dry out, the lockdowns came into place. So we’re really hoping to get out and see our kids.”
Meanwhile, lessons – via the internet or mail – continue.
“We’re absolutely OVER THE MOON with the quantity and quality of books we received…We are gobsmacked by the generosity…I really hope ILF can keep doing what it does.”