Traditional schools are building online schools for a purpose, rather than an adjustment to the environment

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Online learning incorporates what is known as synchronous learning, which basically means the learning process happens at a learners own pace. (Image: Supplied)
Online learning incorporates what is known as synchronous learning, which basically means the learning process happens at a learners own pace. (Image: Supplied)

Designing an environment that not only places global classmates in the same virtual classroom, but that creates meaningful connections through learning technology.


2021 has been an immensely challenging year with numerous nationwide lockdowns and school interruptions, but with every great challenge comes great opportunity. Even the most traditional, well-established institutions are now 'building' online schools. 

Rethinking education post-Covid means a paradigm shift to online learning. As Covid-19 restrictions impacted school openings worldwide, one thing quickly became clear: schools, teachers, students, and their parents would need to depend on technology more than ever.

Globally in 2020, over 1.2 billion children in more than 180 countries were out of the classroom. Many schools quickly and admirably pivoted to delivering online learning, leading experts to believe that when life returns to some normality, the online elements will continue to have a firm place in the classroom. But in many cases, the traditional schooling model that incorporates donning a uniform, sitting in a class, and following a fixed timetable, might fall away almost entirely in 2021 for many. 

Online learning provides the opportunity for students to learn and be taught from literally anywhere in the world, by the best teachers in the world, without being limited to the confines of physical space in any way, shape or form. And that includes their classmates: if the idea is to have us all learning in the best way possible, then a global student body, dialling-in from every corner of it is surely the best way to get the whole picture? 

Now this differs from remote learning, which is vastly different from online learning - remote learning is based on a model whereby students are given or sent learning materials and are expected to digest it all before taking an exam or test of some kind to gain a corresponding qualification. The onus is completely on them (and more often than not, the parents) to stay on track and ‘find all the right answers’. That’s a lot of pressure (on everyone involved). Even with the advent of the ‘Zoom classroom’, this is the type of learning we are seeing globally at the moment, remote. And it’s far from perfect.

Where online learning truly stands apart is that it is fundamentally a learning environment designed and created to exist online. Classes, curriculum, campuses and teachers all play their part in an experience that is as close to the real world as one can imagine, and in a lot of ways, even better. Online learning incorporates what is known as synchronous learning, which basically means the learning process happens at a learners own pace, while also taking the form of live classes with teachers and most importantly, fellow students. With a self-paced, personalised model, completing lessons and submitting assignments become personal responsibility. Students need to rely on themselves and have to reach out to tutors when they need help and assistance. Learning online thus teaches students to take charge of their own schooling and progress. 

The possibilities that online learning provides can, and will, take the concept of learning into the next ‘revolution’ with unlimited access to any and all information, all opinions and all cultures, at the click of a button. It is truly and undoubtedly, the evolution of education.

One would think that a brick and mortar school would give you better opportunities to socialise. But that’s such a small circle of influence,” says Lizzy Steenkamp, Head of Learning Technology at the Valenture Institute. “With technology we have the opportunity to create meaningful connections all around the world - different time zones, places, and you're exposed to people you wouldn't normally be exposed to. That kind of connection is incredibly valuable in a society where learning to think in systems, impact and influence is something only this kind of school can give you.

Considering this global adjustment and need for innovation, one of Joburg’s finest and oldest institutions, St Stithians College, announced the launch of the only true purpose-built school in South Africa, St Stithians Online High School, in collaboration with Valenture Institute, an online high school academic service provider offering an international curriculum recognised by the world's leading universities such as Harvard, Oxford, Yale and so on.

Leading the charge, St Stithians Online High School’s learning environment will inspire new traditions through the evolution of the educational experience for students. Students will be able to complete all their academic work in a high quality, socially-rich online learning environment, and still have access to the institution’s solid traditions, values, and principles. 

St Stithians chose to partner with Valenture Institute, a globally connected company started by Get Smarter founder, Robert Paddock. The online School students study an international curriculum, with intensive Mentor and Student Success Manager support, state-of-the-art learning technology and graduate as St Stithians College students. A world class education from anywhere in the world - and no uniforms.

The technology used to connect students to each other and their teachers also allows unparalleled visibility of their progress, we can also see exactly what kinds of outcomes students are struggling with, where we need to target our interventions to help them do the best that they can and we can very quickly see where we need to help students. The team can see at every point of a child’s academic journey how they are assimilating and comprehending the information.’, says Valenture Institute CEO & Founder, Rob Paddock.

The school’s international Pearson Edexcel curriculum also allows for real-world application and developing critical thinking skills. This sees students develop as individuals as they are not simply taught to recall information.

Children are encouraged to think for themselves and not regurgitate what is learnt at a traditional school. Online schools equip the children for life outside of school and encourages them to become more independent.’, says St Stithians Online High School parent, Judi Coxen.

I really appreciate having engaging and interesting class discussions and lessons from my own home. I love leaving a zoom meeting and being able to walk out of my room, into my garden and breathe. I love being able to work under the shade of a tree or in the sun on the porch. Most of all, I have really come to love how flexible, yet still structured, the entire experience is. No longer are family reunion trips dictated by school holidays. If I need to go up to Jozi to visit family, I only need to bring my laptop with me and I won't miss a beat.’, says St Stithians Online High School student, Gabriel Joa Kroll.

St Stithians Online High School will welcome its first cohorts in July 2021 and the second cohort in January 2022. The online school offers an international curriculum with International GCSEs, AS and A levels qualifications accredited by Pearson Edexcel to students from grade 8 - 13. Fees per month start at R7 150. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/SSOS_Parent24 and quote “Media24” when enquiring for your child.

Online learning group.

Pearson Edexcel’s qualifications are world renowned and highly respected, giving learners the opportunity to succeed in life, learning and employment. By combining world-class qualification standards with a forward thinking approach and international content, Edexcel qualifications are the ideal pathway to today’s top universities, offering learners access to tomorrow’s global opportunities. They also offer teachers the high-tech support they need to help students achieve their full potential and make the most of these opportunities. 

This international online curriculum allows you to manage your time and be responsible while juggling personal priorities and provides an advantage for students when they are older.’, says St Stithians Online High School student, Kai Daniels.

The St Stithians Online High School joins the global evolution of the educational experience in a rapidly changing world by broadening access to learning opportunities for future generations of students. 

An online offering built on a rock-solid foundation spanning sixty-eight years of tradition, values, and principles.

In addition, online students will have the opportunity to study in one of Valenture Institute’s Boutique Campuses located in Cape Town and Johannesburg. These campuses will offer students a learning environment of the future in location-based hubs where they can create and collaborate with peers on campus while still learning online. Whilst these campuses provide a co-learning space with strict COVID monitoring protocols, the flexibility of attendance offered to students means that although COVID may shut down a physical space, the students continue their studies online uninterrupted.

Kids learning together.
Small learning group.

On campus, students get 1:1 guidance from learning coaches, and the highly-experienced faculty sets them up for success, giving every student an advantage for entry into the world’s top global universities. Learning coaches assist students to personalise their timetables - to balance both academic and social priorities - within the structured learning parameters, to review personal progress against every student’s individual goals, every week.

These supervised and bespoke co-learning spaces offer the best of a blended learning environment. The new learning normal that works for the student rather than the school.

Join our hosts, Ian Bredenkamp and Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp, for a 4-part series of Zoom webinars on aspects of online education at St Stithians Online High School. Next webinar on 23 September 2021. Sign up to join the live session here: https://www.ststithiansonlineschool.com/webinars

Watch the first episode on 'online schooling' here: https://youtu.be/pzf3omGhKqs

This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by the Valenture Institute.

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