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Education In SA Must Evolve For The Future Of Work

learner in online class

The South African economy will not be able to remain globally competitive if it does not move away from Victorian-era, rote learning systems and embrace education methods that are tailored for the new digital future of work.

“The world of work is changing fast, and our children can and must adapt with it to flourish. The current education system is based on the Victorian rote learning system which was primarily developed for the era of industrialisation, which encouraged obedient thinkers who did what they were told. Children were placed in rows, told to sit still, and memorise a single, standardised curriculum of subjects that were appropriate at one time. But the new world of work needs multifaceted problem solvers, critical and independent thinkers who find solutions and are not afraid to be wrong until they are right.,” says Jackie Cook, Chief Operating Officer at Teneo Online School.

Teneo is South Africa’s first online school for Grade R to Matric to offer live (synchronous), structured online teaching of the South African, independent and British curricula, as well as various future-focused subjects, skills, and interests. Their 8500 current students enjoy the benefits of live classes and interactions with teachers and classmates – as one would in a bricks and mortar school. The school also encourages digital kindness, wellness, and healthy online socialising, as well as entrepreneurial and lateral thinking.

Evolution towards a more inclusive economy

Victorian era style education is based on an expensive, inaccessible and exclusive business model - schools are in a particular location, often on prime real estate, with pricey physical infrastructure on top of it that requires ongoing maintenance, and only those that live close by and can afford it, can access it. Without those burdens, online schools can be more inclusive, accessible, and affordable to a wider range of children, who are the workforce and citizens of the future.

“Inclusive online education is the only way we can kickstart a more equal and educated society and a more inclusive knowledge economy,” says Cook, who was a senior teacher at some of SA’s top schools for 30 years before transitioning to the delivery of high-quality online education.

“Today there is a huge push towards contract and project-based working models with a strong gig economy, both around the world and in SA. The platforms that enable this gig economy and freelancing lifestyle will only get bigger in the future. We must equip our children for this new future of work, for their own sake, and for the sake of our country’s future,” says Cook.

“In the same spirit, the teaching profession needs to evolve too, and those of us who are willing to evolve as teachers will migrate to online teaching. In five years’ time, all of SA’s best teachers will work in online education because online school is the mainstream school of the future – it’s a natural outcome in a time of great change.”

The benefits of structured online learning

Speaking from the pedagogical perspective, Cook says online learning is the most appropriate for today’s children, because it teaches autonomy, creativity, adaptability, and the combination of multiple modern skillsets that will be required by the job market over the next few decades.

Many different models for online education exist, but the two main streams are live (synchronous) and video (asynchronous) teaching. Teneo Online School follows the synchronous model of live online instruction, based on a structured timetable which children thrive in. 

“Synchronous online learning offers the best of both worlds. Your child gets immediate and ongoing attention from dedicated teachers who provide live online classes and the benefits of a nurturing teacher-child relationship, but all lessons are recorded and can be rewatched. Learners and parents have around the clock access to a treasure trove of resources, including all past lessons, teaching materials and the real-time status of their assignments and marks. They get notified of upcoming deadlines and missed deadlines. Everything is housed in our state-of-the-art learner management system, which the teachers, learners and parents all find invaluable and indispensable as a resource.”

All kinds of children flourish in online school

“Victorian era education was a one size fits all approach, whereas online education is adaptable to the needs of all kinds of children. The reality is that children are all different and the learning method for one is not necessarily the best learning method for everyone. We need to enable children to learn in the best way that suits them,” says Cook.

“Good online schools can cater to the needs of all kinds of learners, at the same time, in the same classroom, even if every child is differently abled. Gone are the days of separating children into A, B and C classes according to their perceived intelligence. All children are intelligent, one must just teach them how they like to learn.”

Online education is beneficial to all kinds of children:

  • Learners on the spectrum: children can manage any kind of sensory overload they may experience by switching their cameras, screens or earphones on or off as they wish, and they can also choose their level of engagement with their teacher and classmates according to their own level of comfort
  • ADHD learners: in online school, children don’t have to ‘sit still and behave’ – they can play with a fidget spinner or hop up and down on an exercise ball while being in class without disturbing their classmates, if it helps them to concentrate
  • Auditory learners: these children thrive by learning through music, discussion, lectures and other auditory learning aids, which online learning can offer in many forms
  • Visual learners: these children learn best through pictures, movies, diagrams, and other visual aids, which online learning can provide in abundance
  • Kinaesthetic learners: these kinds of learners do best by learning via movement, experiments, and hands-on activities – they might do best having a standing desk or a treadmill so that they can move while tuning in online
  • Reading and writingthese kinds of learners love to make lists, read textbooks, take notes and use productivity apps to stay organised. Online school, and the benefits of working on Learner Management System software, are well-suited to these learners. 
  • Bullied children: Children who were bullied in physical school settings thrive in online school with zero-tolerance policies on cyberbullying, and where digital kindness and etiquette are engendered from a young age. Children are also taught relevant coping skills for today’s world, and that “what goes online stays online” – so it’s also in their best interests to be kind and maintain a clean digital history.
  • Faster learners: these learners can work ahead and take on more complex tasks.
  • Slower learners: these learners can revisit their lessons and invest in their work as much as they need

“Victorian era rote learning is ill-suited to most kinds of children and their learning styles, whereas online school is able to cater for every kind of learning style,” says Cook.

“The reality is that today’s children need a whole new skillset, that includes critical thinking and problem solving, computational thinking, design thinking, agility and flexibility, as well as emotional, social and cultural intelligence. The key to their success is a growth mindset to become adaptive, creative and innovative professionals. They need the ability to work seamlessly in a team and independently throughout the day. For our children to thrive in a changing digital economy, they will need to be self-motivated, self-sufficient, digitally literate, socially responsible, kind, considerate and entrepreneurial. They also need to learn to socialise happily and practice many of their hobbies online. Online school prepares them for it all.”

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