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A Melbourne based interpreting service has written to 1,000 NSW schools offering interpreters via videoconference, a service it says could be delivered through the schools' Connected Classrooms.

A NSW Government initiative is rolling out interactive whiteboards complete with videoconferencing capability to all Government schools, to establish a network of Connected Classrooms.

NSW is spending $66 million installing the whiteboards. As of this week that programme is 63 per cent completed.

In November last year it also signed a $280 million deal with Telstra to upgrade and supply all government schools with broadband network connection. The network upgrade is now 78 per cent complete according to the Department of Education.

While NSW already offers Government schools a free telephone based interpreter service, it does have limitations. Ismail Akinci, CEO of InterpreterLine said that for interpreters to work effectively, they had to be able to interject in a conversation and slow it down when their memories (for the words spoken) reached capacity.

Doing this over a telephone was harder than doing it face to face or by video conference. Telephone interpretation is also clearly unsuitable for Auslan interpreters to assist the hearing impaired.

Akinci said he had written to 1,000 NSW schools this term, and already received a handful of responses, although acknowledged that it was 'early days.'

While all NSW schools will shortly be equipped with videoconferencing capability, making them obvious candidates for videoconference based interpretation as far as Akinci is concerned, Victoria has taken a different tack.

The Victorian Government ran a trial of videoconference based interpretation in 2008 and has now provided grants to purchase videoconferencing equipment and use the service to a handful of schools across the state.

One of the first schools to go live will be Bell Park North Public School which hosts the Geelong English Language Centre. It has received a grant of around $20,000 and expects to have videoconference based interpretation (provided by InterpreterLine) available from May.

Peter Macer, co-ordinator of the Geelong English Language Centre, says 70 students in primary school and 40 in secondary schools in the area will have access to the service.

Macer said besides providing interpretation for students and parents the videoconferencing equipment could be used to underpin teacher professional development at the school.

Akinci explained that InterpreterLine has around 2,000 interpreters on its books Australia-wide with most based in NSW and Victoria.

The company has set up two videoconferencing booths, equipped with Tandberg equipment in booths its Melbourne and Sydney offices, which interpreters could use to conduct videoconferences with schools which also had access to videoconferencing equipment.


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