In 2020, across the world, many families had an extraordinary experience of online schooling as the pandemic shut down brick-and-mortar schools for extended periods. All things were far from equal. Many low-income families didn’t have the data and devices to get their children properly connected; while the middle-class and up could make a much easier transition and better avoid learning disruptions. Some schools were adept at getting curricula, educators and learners online; others had little clue about online educational pedagogy and floundered, even if they were well-resourced schools. Some parents saw their kids thriving against the odds, which was enlightening; others were highly stressed at finding themselves cast as tutors and overseeing daily learning.
While there is relief in the COVID-recovery times that kids can go back to school and parents back to work, this experience of how the digital-world mitigated against real-world challenges is here to stay. Whereas online and blended learning might once have been mostly untried and untested, these are now mainstream options for today’s families offering a much wider choice. Free from physical geography, online school offers more options when it comes to curricula, access to educators and far wider learning options that can possibly take place within the walls of a classroom.
For Mark Anderson, Principal and Co-founder of high-engagement online school, Koa Academy, it’s not a case of online versus brick-and-mortar, but a question of who is delivering relevant, quality teaching and learning that works best for your family.
Here he busts 3 common myths around online schooling:
I will have to teach my child – “Online learning has a distinct pedagogy and online teachers have particular skills to facilitate learning on the digital platform. It is the professional teacher’s role to guide your child through the school curriculum, and this does not change at all in the online environment. Parents have the same role when it comes to their child’s learning whether they are in a physical school or an online school.”
My child will not get socialisation – “Parents need to choose a school, online or physical, that suits their values and aims for their child’s education and school experience. Socialisation at school comes through the intentional creation and maintenance of a high-engagement environment. There are physical schools that do well at this, and others that don’t. Same applies to online schools. At Koa, children come together in small 8-person Pods with their teacher which makes socialisation a key part of every school day. Our kids are learning how to be responsible, sociable digital citizens as well, which is preparing them for a very real world where our activities and work are increasingly digitalised.”
The qualification is not equal or as robust – “Online schools offer the same curricula and recognised qualifications as physical schools. Like every aspect of our lives in these fast-changing times, schooling and tertiary studies are transforming and being disrupted by better ideas and improved tools. As parents, we are challenged to keep abreast of these developments and to recognise that our child’s education and further studies will and should be different from what we experienced. The world has, and continues to change rapidly and dramatically, and it is the role of school to prepare our children for the real world they will encounter as adults.
Digital learning, fully online or blended, was always where the world was heading. COVID didn’t change the direction, it has only accelerated the pace. Technology in education has the potential to solve many deeply-rooted BIG problems in education – accessibility and equity, quality and relevance. Anderson adds, “We also have to properly consider that we’re educating the generations who are digital natives. We want to prepare them for participation and success in the real world - that’s the goal of education, no matter the era. Well, the real world for this generation, and those that will follow, is a world that encompasses a significant digital realm. Their education needs to include instruction, guidance and experience about how to be a responsible digital citizen because their reality, and their future of work, will not be confined to the material world. An online or blended learning approach is completely appropriate and beneficial in these times, and it is an advantage to families to have this range of choices when they are making decisions about their children’s education.”
There has been a view with the easing of COVID restrictions, that online schools won’t be sustainable. It’s true that some won’t be, particularly those which hold to a more traditional view of education. However, the rise of the digital realm permeating every aspect of our lives means that online and blended learning will be an increasingly prominent feature of global education – from early childhood to post-grad.
In Anderson’s view, parents considering online school options should embrace the same level of discernment when considering any other learning option for their children.
Here are Mark Anderson’s tips for parents when choosing an online school:
Align with your family values – “Think about what you want for your children when it comes to their education. If socio-emotional learning is important to you, then look for the high-engagement online school options. If the experience of a school community resonates with your family values then look at the online schools that are active in building community on and offline. Learn about the values of the school and find the one that fits best with your family values.”
Financial security of the school – “This assessment is no different from how you would evaluate any of the private brick-and-mortar school options in South Africa. Pay attention to the planned scaling to ascertain if it is a sustainable business model. Make sure that fees are not growing too fast. Consider the financial ramifications if there are physical campuses involved.”
Do the due diligence – “Make appointments with school leaders and meet them face-to-face – digital meetings are real connections too. The fact that a school is online doesn’t mean it should be opaque. You’re not signing up to ‘a platform’, you’re enrolling your child in school. Ask your burning questions and follow up on references.”