Thinking of enrolling your child in an online school next year? Here's what you need to know

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Ask yourself: is your little one independent and self-disciplined enough to cope with the curriculum?
Ask yourself: is your little one independent and self-disciplined enough to cope with the curriculum?
MoMo Productions/Getty

Helping them with their homework is intimidating enough.

But having to figure out their curriculum, whether they are spending too much time on the screen and developing holistically are all major concerns that make some parents reluctant to enrol their little ones in online schools.

“You can’t use conventional wisdom in this space," UCT High School's first principal Yandiswa Xhakaza told Drum in a previous interview, explaining the experience of pioneering an online school.

"An example that I like using is that our matric results are probably going to be appalling, right?”

“But conventional wisdom says that a school is judged by the number of distinctions they produced in Grade 12. Now in our case, when you look at the profile of our kids who come from many different communities, we did not accept kids based on whether they are doing well academically or not.

“We actually accepted any child who passed the previous grade, however that pass rate may have looked like. And what that means is that those kids are now in our system. We even accepted Grade 11s, who are going to Grade 12 next year, and between Grades 11 and 12 we might not have enough time to turn things around. 

“But that can’t be our measure, because there’s such a bad education problem in our country, there are such appalling standards in our country. We are fleshing those out, whereas most private schools actually select their kids based on academic performance, which is why they produce good results to begin with – it’s not that the school puts in any effort in producing those results; it’s because the kids came in smart already.

“We don’t select our kids in that way, so already that’s another big shift we had to make that we can’t measure ourselves the same way.

“So I really love the fact that we’re pioneering something new, we’re challenged every day to think differently. But, also, we are shaping policy around how must government regulate the online space. We are a very instrumental piece there, because we are doing it and we are doing it at scale.”

Read more | Is SA ready for 100% online schools? This matriculant who got 7 distinctions seems to think so

Parents who are considering enrolling their kids into any of the new online schools that have opened since lockdown should bear in mind that "online schools and their offerings are [not] comparable [just] because they use similar technology, stick to a curriculum, require a child to have a device and some self-discipline," says Colin Northmore, Principal of Evolve Online School, a brand of ADvTECH.

"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.

“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. 

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

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?

Read more | Local dad shares: "I home school my son and work at the same time - this is how I do it"

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. 

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