COLUMN: Online learning needs to become part of mainstream education

It’s time to rethink schooling.

As a child I hated traditional schooling. Ask any of my friends – I hated it. I used break time to sleep and was an average student. I hated the micromanagement of having to ask permission to relieve myself, let alone the fact that I had to wear a boring school uniform every day.

I mostly hated the rigidity of school and its construct. The schooling system for me did not promote individuality or creativity. And it certainly was not there for flexibility.

Yet here I am at 35 years of age and not much has changed. I’ve just had a baby and the thought of her attending traditional schooling during primary and high school makes me want to go running for the hills. Add to that all the germs in schools and I am in a flat panic!

In comes Covid-19, a pandemic for the world to finally see that the way we’ve been doing schooling needs a serious overhaul.

Online schooling could very well be the way forward for education in South Africa, and globally, as the world learns about a “new normal.”

In an ideal situation, middle to upper class parents may consider this a viable option as they are most likely to have access to the right internet connection and computer for their children.

This then leaves a gap in public and private schools for children who are disadvantaged to attend school with less full classes and more attentive teachers. In a broad spectrum it could be an opportunity to level up the type of education all children receive across the country.

As government rolls this out and begins saving money on text books, maintenance and traditional thinking, the department of education can take it upon themselves to roll out laptops and internet access to ALL. This could be made compulsory and granted to all children in South Africa, and traditional schooling could be phased out.

It may also have a huge impact on bullying at schools, thus impacting on depression and anxiety amongst children.

This is of course, an ideal scenario and cannot be done by government alone.

Rob Paddock, CEO and founder of online school Valenture Institute, believes in order for this to happen there needs to be collaboration between government and the private sector.

“Globally, the vast majority of state-run online schools are the result of partnerships between the private and public sector. The immense upfront capital, scarce expertise, and operational complexity of starting and running an online school make these private/public partnerships an obvious choice for the government if they wish to move fast and effectively into online education. In South Africa, the process of rolling out a national online school would be significantly eased by an effective partnership between the government and a private sector partner.”

A parent, Lyett Burger, whose child attends the Valenture Institute, says: “We have no more traffic on the school-run or early morning arguments to get Camryn ready for the school day. The routine at home in the mornings is a lot easier to handle and much less stressful. We would often have a morning panic because Camryn couldn’t find her jersey, or her shoes weren’t polished, or something wasn’t ready, which we now obviously don’t have to worry about.”

This mom, whose daughter is in Grade 8, says that Covid-19 has not impacted her child’s learning or schooling and things have stayed the same: “We have actually been lucky, as our children do not have to catch up on any school hours lost due to the  lockdown.”

The mother decided to enroll her daughter at Valenture when Camryn was not handling peer conflicts very well at school, which unfortunately affected her substantially. Secondly, her Dad was scheduled to have a stem cell transplant early in 2020 and the family were advised to avoid interaction in the schooling environment where germs flourish, “so we decided it would be the ideal time to start online schooling with Valenture Institute”.

One of the biggest concerns for parents when it comes to online schooling will be sports, extra circular activities and social development, says Burger. “On the positive side, Camryn has shown more self-discipline, better time management, modern skills development.  On the negative side, she has less extra mural interaction like sport, but this is still possible with the sports clubs.”

Camryn, who enjoys the flexibility of her online schooling, offers some sage advice for children who may want to go the online route: “Make sure you do your schoolwork when it is due. Don’t leave all your assignments till the last minute and then spend all weekend having to catch them up. ”

Whether you decide that back to normal schooling should take precedence and be supported by online learning or vice-versa, as Sam Cooke sang a” change is gonna come”. Parents, brace yourselves.

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