Back to school, or maybe not? Ask these questions before choosing online learning

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What should parents really be thinking about before going with online learning? (Getty Images)
What should parents really be thinking about before going with online learning? (Getty Images)

Schools will soon reopen and will surely be trying their level best to comply with all the health regulations and challenges of the pandemic. 

Added to these are other trouble spots such as teachers having to quarantine, parents unable to honour their fee payment obligations and of course, parents’ anxiety in preferring to keep their children at home rather than risk the spread of the virus to the rest of the family. 

As I write this, the date for schools to reopen has been delayed to the 15 February. 

Also see: What is the new date for the reopening of schools and when will the 2020 matric results be released? 

Something different, perhaps?

I know what you are searching for on Google. I’m seeing a lot of parents looking for alternatives to the regular schooling options that are available and taking huge, often uncalculated risks, by asking for recommendations from other parents about what they should or shouldn’t do for the 2021 academic year. Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but that’s like the blind leading the blind. 

Common search questions at the moment are “What is online schooling?” “Virtual schools near me” “What does online schooling cost?” “Homeschooling vs online schooling”. “Will my child still get concessions and accommodations with online schooling?” and “How does online schooling work?”

But what should parents really be thinking about before going with online learning? 

Here are a few considerations to mull over before deciding if online learning is right for you and your family. 

1. Decide if you need, or can afford, a “boxed curriculum” for them to do at home or whether you’re going to bring in a mix of resources that are available. This is called having an eclectic approach. There are loads of resources now and it can be confusing and overwhelming, once you start researching this, believe me. 

2. Know what resources you have at your disposal. You can always borrow textbooks from someone whose child has just finished the grade your child is starting. If you know in your heart that you will not and should not homeschool your child, then don’t. Your relationship with your child is way more important than textbooks and worksheets. 

If you are looking for a tutor, cottage school, learning centre or a virtual school, a box of textbooks or a solution that suits your family and your child...good luck with deciding which to sign up for. It’s not a one size fits all solution, especially not during these times.

There are some very,  very greedy entrepreneurs out there who are taking advantage of the fear-mongering that is rife at the moment, i.e. the dangers of wearing masks, the new variant that spreads so much easier and of course, the security risks of using Whatsapp...the list goes on and on. It’s exhausting!

They are just waiting to take your hard-earned money and promise you the world on a plate if you just sign up here...and if you register NOW or within 24 hours, you get a free username and password...WOW! 

Imagine if…

Imagine if out of all this confusion and uncertainty, we can cultivate the perfect environment to grow a different type of learner, an ‘educational outlier’?

If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers”, you’ll know that he refers to “people whose achievements fall outside normal experience”. I am of the opinion that this upheaval in the education space presents a unique opportunity to actually create a large number of outliers by levelling the educational playing field for people who wouldn't otherwise have the necessary circumstances to become outliers.

How exciting is that? If you want to watch a short summary of the book, click here.

I do think that the future of education involves some online learning, a passionate and caring adult or mentor, a student with a thirst for knowledge or an inquiring mind and the learning opportunities that present themselves.

By applying Gladwell's concept of the outlier to online education, we can see a two-prong approach.

First, we must determine if online education is creating or has created outliers and then investigate if it is possible to harness the unique individualizing potential of online learning to actually cultivate outliers.

Must see: Starting high school this year? Here's how to manage the transition

How do I know if my child will manage online learning?

As the parent, you must make a decision based on what’s in your child’s best interest, and not necessarily what’s convenient for you. Let me repeat that...Make the decision based on what’s in your child’s best interest and not what is convenient for you.

Understand that online learning is a cookie-cutter approach. It’s a way of educating large numbers of children with the smallest amount of resources. Doesn’t that sound like we’re going back to the industrial revolution? 

Answer the following 15 questions honestly

1. He/she is an individual and unique – will the school value and appreciate that once you’ve signed the contract? 

2. Does your child need a more/less structured environment?

3. Does your child need more challenging work or more individual attention?

4. Does your child generally need extra help or more time to complete an assignment?

5. Does your child have any special learning needs?

6. Does your child need more supervision than the average child does?

7. Does your child need a learning environment that fosters creativity?

8. Is your child a very sociable person or an introvert?

9. How emotionally balanced is your child?

10. Does your child learn best by seeing how things work/by reading how things work or by listening?

11. Does your child like to participate in discussions?

12. Does your child like to learn through physical activity or movement?

13. Is your child musical or artistic?

14. Does your child like to learn in groups or alone?

15. Is there any valid reason that might prevent your child from attending a traditional schooling environment?

So what now?

I really hope that I’ve touched a nerve and that I’ve caused you to re-think your decisions, whatever those may be.

I’ve always been an advocate for children, looking out for those who cannot speak for themselves so if I’ve offended anyone, that’s not my intention. I’m merely wanting parents to not be “sheeple”.

Just because everyone else is rushing around like chickens without heads, doesn’t mean that you have to as well. Consult with professionals who know the educational landscape well. 

Believe me when I say, I’m having the exact same thoughts as you are.

My son is not someone who would manage online learning. With him entering his final school year, of course, I want him to be safe, of course, I want him to experience the functions and events that Matrics should have, and of course, I want him to achieve the results that he deserves without being compromised by schooling disruptions, but can I guarantee all these things?

No, absolutely not. They are out of my control, but I have to trust that the school where I have placed my son for the past 4 years, has his best interests at heart, know him well and will never compromise his health or that of any staff member or student at the school.

Final thoughts

We don’t know how the year is going to pan out. We don’t know when the 2nd wave will end and if there’s a 3rd wave waiting around the corner. We do know, however, that we need to be careful, we need to stay at home (as much as possible, when not at work or at school) and we need to wear masks when in public (and if we are staying at home, that shouldn’t be for long periods of time), we also need to wash or sanitize our hands often and avoid any public gatherings unless they are small groups and in ventilated spaces or outside. 

What you can do:

  • If your child is going back to school, have different masks that he/can alternate. 
  • Send a bottle of sanitiser and encourage your child to keep it on his/her desk as a reminder to use it often. 
  • Encourage the school to have some classes outdoors if the weather permits it, and if not, to keep doors and windows open. 
  • Students do not need to walk around in the passages. Teachers can move to avoid congestion in small spaces. 
  • Ask the school if break times can be staggered so that fewer children are outside at one time and if classes can be dismissed at the end of the day at different exit points.
  • Keep your child at home if they show any symptoms and communicate this to the school.
  • Set a good example for your child. If you are conscientious about keeping safe and following the correct protocols, your child should too. The younger they are, the better in terms of compliance. 
  • The question about whether to wear uniforms or not rests with the individual schools but you can certainly voice your opinions.

Remember, if you have a signed contract with the school and have fulfilled your financial obligation last year and will for this year, you are fully entitled to have your concerns addressed.

‘Car park’ skinner or ‘Whatsapp Whining’ never resolves anything and will only make matters worse.

Rather contact the office directly, send an email and remain informed so that you are viewed as part of the solution and not part of the problem, because believe me, school heads and teachers will have enough of those to contend with during the course of this year. 


What is your biggest concern about back to school in 2021? 


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