- Correspondence Education in Australia: Part 2
In Part 1 I wrote about the procedures for obtaining an accounting and bookkeeping qualification by correspondence education up until I started studying. I passed the tests that checked my suitability to study for this qualification, and finally began my studies. To complete this course, I had to pass a total of 13 “units” (subjects). The textbooks that came by mail, 15 in all, were so thick that when I stacked them up there was a pile 30cm tall. I was amazed. Each subject has a “unit code”, a combination of numbers and letters. This is a nationally designated code for use throughout Australia and each institute prepares textbooks and teaches in line with the learning content standards for each unit code. Because I was studying by correspondence, I could start with any subject, but the institute had a recommended order that they said more or less made things easier. The subjects were arranged in order starting with writing reports on the basics of accounting and bookkeeping and the related laws using Excel and Word, followed by practical subjects where you actually use accounting software. I could get onto the institute's website on my computer and watch the class-room recordings, which were recordings of the classes attended by other students in person. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about studying, so I decided to watch the recordings first rather than reading the textbooks. The longest recordings were three and a half hours but had breaks along the way and I could watch and stop at any time, meaning that I could study at my own pace. The classroom recordings were no different from attending classes in person, I just couldn't ask questions on the spot, but it was more convenient because I could replay a recording if I couldn't pick up something or wanted to listen to something again. All questions were by phone or email. When asking a detailed question, it was better to ask the question in an email attachment, which made for smoother communication for both of us rather than trying to give an explanation about a place on some page of a text on a phone. The institute I applied for is in Perth, so there was a three-hour time difference from where I live, which meant it was more convenient to communicate by email than by phone. The quickest replies by email were within two hours of sending, and the slowest were sometimes after three days. If I had a problem or question that I really wanted to solve quickly, I called on the phone. To pass a unit, first you have to pass the 20-question test on the website, then you can access the assignment, you submit the assignment, get all the questions right, and you pass at last. But, you can re-submit your assignment (up to three times), so even if you do make a mistake, the teacher will point out where you made a mistake and you just have to resubmit any answer you got wrong and eventually get all the questions right. Some assignments were written answers to questions, some involved filling in calculations, graphs, tables, and so on, or writing business reports, and some involved submitting documents created with accounting software. The questions involving calculations, which had only one answer, were fine, but writing business reports and giving written answers to questions were much more difficult for me. There were more assignments for each subject than I expected. They took an average of three to four hours to complete. What’s more, there were a lot of questions and assignments that didn’t show up in the textbooks, so I used Google a lot. Australia has a small population, so Google searches came up with more US and UK websites: There is still not enough information and I struggled with that too. What helped me with the stress of this situation was the Facebook group page set up by the institute. It meant that students taking the same course as me by correspondence education could post on the page and help each other out, asking questions about the assignment and giving answers. It’s not OK, though, to post an answer to a question directly. What you can do is tell another student to try reading a certain part of the text again, teach them a calculation method until they get the answer, or give advice like telling them it’s okay not to answer a certain question in such fine detail. The institute management would give you a reminder if your post goes too far, or you make a comment that isn’t relevant or appropriate. Looking at the webpage I could see there were a lot of students who were worried like me, some saying things like "I don't know what the question means. Help!" so, I wasn’t the only one who was worried. I thought not understanding the meaning of a question meant I had an English problem, but if native English speakers were struggling that much it was only natural that I was having trouble, which was a bit of a relief and the stress lifted. I submitted the assignment for my very first unit and the result came back. Of course, I didn’t get all the questions right first go. There were answers that I wasn’t confident about but got right, and the opposite too, answers that I was confident about but got wrong. The teacher who graded me gave me more specific details about the questions I got wrong, which is when I got the hang of it, that I should answer questions like so, and that it wasn’t OK like that. I managed to work more efficiently with the second re-submission, and after that, I made good progress with my assignments. Some of the subjects I passed first go, which made me very happy. Seeing the remaining subjects soon decrease to 10, then six, made me even happier.
I know this blog is getting a bit long, but I’m going to continue it in Part 3.