Distance no barrier for gifted scholars

WHEN HARRY Roth goes to maths class each week, he’s taught by a teacher in Broken Hill and his classmates are as far away as Nyngan and Coonabarabran.

“It’s amazing that people can be so far away but you feel like they’re right there with you,” the year eight Orange High School student said.

“I think this will set a trend for future education.”

Harry is part of a growing number of gifted and talented students in western NSW who, thanks to technology, have the opportunity to work and study together for the first time.

The xsel Virtual Selective High School was launched last year, as something of an experiment following the success of the Central West region’s e2 program.

The premise was to bring a selective school education to students who, due to geographical distance, could not be housed together at a single school, or who would otherwise have had to leave their homes for a selective education in Sydney.

Thirty year seven students who had sat the selective schools exam were given computers and, through video and web technologies, were linked with their peers in other towns for classes in English, maths and science.

Twelve months on, 22 schools in western NSW have signed up to xsel, across an area the size of Germany, and there are more students and teachers wanting to take part in the program than there are places available.

“I think it was a difficult concept to get your head around initially, that they’d be doing it all by virtual education, but the three students who did it [in Orange] last year have done really well,” said Nicole Griffith, an xsel support teacher based in Orange.

“It just means that instead of losing our kids to selective schools in Sydney we get to keep them here.”

The school now has 60 enrolments across year seven and eight.

They attend English, maths and science with their virtual classmates and study their remaining subjects with students at their home school.

Class projects can be anything from building a virtual world for English to drawing and scanning graphs for maths.

“It’s full of independent learning, but we still get the opportunity to work with a teacher,” year seven student Isabella Bankovic said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes as we get older.”

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