Finding The Best Online School For Your Child In A Crowded Field

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In the wake of the lockdowns, parents increasingly considered online schooling a viable alternative to traditional in-person schooling. As a result, several new schools opened their (virtual) doors to prospective students.


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However, parents don't always know how to determine these schools' quality objectively. It has now become clear that over the past year, many schools which on the surface appeared of a high standard were unable to fulfil their promises to students.

"It shouldn't come as a surprise that choosing an online school requires the same kind of due diligence from parents as choosing an in-person school would," says Colin Northmore, Principal of Evolve Online School, a brand of ADvTECH, Africa's largest private education provider.

"However, there is still a misconception that online schools and their offerings are comparable because they use similar technology, stick to a curriculum, require a child to have a device and some self-discipline, and from there, it's smooth sailing. The reality could not be further from the truth, as good online schools must offer much more than a curriculum and some tutoring from behind a screen," he says.

Northmore says many young South African students who started online schooling this year are finding themselves in a difficult situation right now, after having signed up with online schools whose marketing did not live up to their delivery, and with parents now trying to remedy the problem so that their children don't need to repeat the year.

"Online school is a great option for students who work better on their own, families who are mobile and need to ensure consistency of education while travelling, and so forth – there are many reasons for choosing to attend an online school. But we implore parents to carefully weigh different schools against the objective factors that can mean the difference between success and failure," he says.

Some of the complaints that have arisen over the past year as online schooling became more mainstream include overwhelming workloads, lack of communication, lack of student support, logistical incompetence on the part of the institution, and sub-standard materials.

When investigating and comparing online schools, parents should ensure they are happy with a school's offering and competence in all the following:

REGISTRATION & ACCREDITATION

The most basic first check is to ensure that the school is registered and accredited by the relevant authorities. The registration is difficult to check because the Department needs a policy for online school registration.

Without this certainty, parents can check if the school is a stand-alone or part of a group of schools. They can also find out if the school is registered with an examining body like the Independent Exams Board of Cambridge International. Registration with an examining body should be non-negotiable.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE, REPUTATION, TRACK RECORD & INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT

Is the online school part of a school group with a proven track record of academic excellence in its brick-and-mortar schools? Do their students have a reputation for excelling and thriving online and in-person schools across the board?

These are essential questions to ask to determine whether a new school is exploiting the growing demand for online schools or whether they have a history, track record and the requisite institutional support to deliver quality education. Can an online school demonstrate that it has translated its historical track record in the in-person space to the online area? Reputation is a crucial consideration, given that sometimes reputable institutions have yet to make the transition successfully. Ask for evidence and speak to current parents and students.

LOGISTICAL COMPETENCE

Can the school deliver assessments, lectures, and materials timeously and stick to the annual calendar without floundering around? Online study requires a great deal of discipline and independence. The last thing a student needs is to have their progress hampered and frustrated by an institution logistically incapable of delivering a consistent quality offering.

ROUNDED EDUCATION/ SCREEN TIME VS GREEN TIME

Is the school committed to the whole child and a rounded education? Simply being a delivering and testing factory is not going to cut it.

An excellent online school will incorporate diagnostic testing to determine the exact level of proficiency of a student before placement and during the educational journey; asynchronous learning so that learners can move through content at their own pace and according to their own proficiency, with direct access to teachers who will facilitate extra activation classes; synchronous learning where students will also be able to attend live interactive lessons, and socialisation opportunities with academies, studios and day camps so that students can mingle with their peers and balance their screen time with green time.

"When investigating an online school, parents should take heed of their experience dealing with the school during the initial phases. They should also continue to interrogate all claims, as promises are easily made but hard to keep in the online education environment," says Northmore.

"Are you confident that they are responsive and accessible after dealing with the school? Are you confident your child can access additional support easily and routinely? Online schooling is much more than a delivery of the curriculum. An online school should be focused on helping students to grow, develop and perform at their best academically while also supporting them to grow into confident and competent members of society."

EVOLVE SCHOOL caters for Grades R-9 from January 2021. Grades 10-12 will be phased in from 2022. 

Visit www.evolveonline.co.za for more information or mail [email protected].

 

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