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Edtel: Access to education and training

Phillip Skelton
Office of Communications
State IT, Department of State Services


That communications can be used to increase access to education and training is well known, having been practised widely for many years. However the initial applications were extreme situations and utilised already existing communications. For example, School of the Air in Western Australia commenced well over 30 years ago for primary school age children living on isolated properties, and for whom leaving home to board in the city was either not a desirable or a possible option. The households concerned already possessed high frequency two way radio in a network operated by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The technological solution was already in place. What was required was setting up the operational and administrative infrastructure to utilise it for education delivery purposes.

School of the Air supplemented mail delivered correspondence material. Use of communications to supplement correspondence material has now extended to all levels of education, including tertiary and beyond, and utilises the whole gamut of communications media including broadcasting, narrowcasting, radio communications and telecommunications.

Communications can be utilised to deliver education and training as a supplement to both correspondence and face to face teaching, and can be applied not only in the obvious case of students who are in far distant locations, but also city people who are isolated for any reason such as being house bound or institutionalised, or who simply prefer to work from home. It can be used for cost avoidance through creation of electronic rather than bricks and mortar classrooms. It can give both teachers and learners greater productivity and satisfaction by overcoming the constraints of time and place.

There is a very long time scale between recognition that modern communications can be used to increase access to education and training and the whole hearted adoption of such techniques. In Western Australia a forward looking group of officials from the various education and training institutions formed an informal group named WASEAG (Western Australian Satellite Education Advisory Group). Their enthusiasm, energy and understanding of the issues resulted in successful Ed-TV broadcasts commencing in 1984 from the regional town of Bunbury, and later extended by satellite to all of Western Australia except Perth. Although this series of education programmes is continuing, it has always enjoyed much less than enthusiastic support from the institutions who provide its content and manage its production.

In 1986 a cross sectoral working party developed the Wesnet Report (Western Australian Educational Satellite Network) which would have put Ed-TV onto an official footing, expanded its reach, and extended applications to include staff development and training for public sector employees throughout the state. Analysis of why Wesnet did not proceed showed that the main factors were

At the conference Communications for Education in November 1988, organised by the WA Government Office of Communications, the Premier announced the formation of a task force whose aim was to develop an enduring procedural mechanism which would ensure the effective and efficient cooperative use of existing and emerging communications services to increase access to education and training in Western Australia. The Telecommunications for Education and Training Task Force comprised representatives of the whole range of public and private sector education and training institutions, and representatives of a wide range of users, over 80 people in all, during preparation of its action plan.

The key element in the action plan was the formation of a voluntary cooperative to be known as Edtel (Education and Training Telecommunications Cooperative). The Premier agreed to the action plan, including the formation of Edtel in April 1990.


There are challenges in meeting a number of State and Federal government policies relating to education and training. Some of these policies are One could also add rationalisation of distance education services. However I would rather see integration of distance education techniques into mainstream education. In other words, essentially the same techniques can be used for education and training delivery to all students, be it across campus, in their homes or work places around town, in education or other institutions in other towns, or in really isolated places.

There are strategic advantages in linking these techniques into mainstream education. Production of expertly prepared multimedia packages which promote interaction between students and staff at a distance, will enable staff to teach more students more effectively and allow the timing and method of delivery to be tailored to the needs of industry on a "user pays" basis.

Available communication technologies

A partial list of well tried and proven communication technologies would include The use of communications has the potential to

Need for a cross sectoral approach

The diversity of education and training and, by implication, the variety of institutions involved, is seen from this table.


early childhoodvocational skills training
primaryprofessional development
secondary and prevocationalindustrial training
higher educationpublic sector training
continuing educationskills upgrading
recreational education

Edtel is designed to have a three tiered structure. A Board of Management will comprise the heads of the major education and training agencies, and will set broad policies and goals. An advisory committee will consist of key personnel in those agencies with responsibilities for course design and delivery. A small secretariat will run the day to day operations of the cooperative.

It is not designed to take over or duplicate the existing functions of its member organisations. Each of the institutions involved will continue to deliver its own product to its own client groups. In doing so, they may wish to use a mixture of technologies in which there will be common requirements for particular types of communications channels.

There are significant cost benefits in institutions sharing the cost of acquisition and use of communications channels. This is the fundamental advantage of a co-operative arrangement. For any given type of communication channel there will be one or two major users, and a number of potential minor users who could not afford to use the technique if they had to pay for it alone, but who can take advantage of it by purchasing time at cost from major users. This clearly also enables the major user to reduce its costs by selling its unused capacity.

Benefits of Edtel

Issues which can be addressed more economically on a shared basis are Edtel will thus provide its members with a knowledge base on current and emergent applications of educational and training technology. It will enable agencies to collaborate in the research and development of new services, and it will encourage the development of a shared communications infrastructure which would otherwise be beyond the capacity of individual institutions. One such example already underway is the trial video conferencing network linking the Pilbara with the Central Metropolitan College of TAFE (refer Davy, 1990, in this book). This is expected to grow into a state wide network of study centres with their own communications links, to be used by a variety of bodies for education, training, professional development and community information programmes.

In these ways, it is to be hoped that Edtel will provide the enduring mechanism to achieve the objective of improved access to education and training by all West Australians, regardless of their circumstances or geographic location.

Author: Phillip Skelton was appointed the inaugural Director of the Office of Communications, established in 1985, within the then Department of Computing and Information Technology. The Office's mission is to facilitate improved communication services for all Western Australians. In 1990 the Office and other functions of DOCIT became part of the Department of State Services.

Please cite as: Skelton, P. (1990). Edtel: Access to education and training. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 294-298. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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