Saturday, 27 August 2016

On-Line Schools

Empowering Parents A Little Bit

The New Zealand government has thrown a monkey wrench into the vast state school engine.  At the drop of a hat, out of left field, the Ministry of Education has incorporated on-line schooling into the system.  If the media's reporting on this move reflects accurately the response of the educational establishment, it has been condemned swiftly, unequivocally, and universally.

Basically, it will involve education providers being allowed to instruct and teach kids via on-line media.  The providers will need to be registered with the State and doubtless their educational offering, processes, and disciplines will be subject to the Education Review Office--which currently inspects all registered schools.

The Minister of Education, Hekia Parata had this to say:
"This innovative way of delivering education offers a digital option to engage students, grow their digital fluency, and connect them even more to 21st century opportunities.  "There will be a rigorous accreditation process alongside ongoing monitoring to ensure quality education is being provided." [NZ Herald]
But it turns out that on-line learning is a very, very bad idea. It takes pupils away from the institution of the physical bricks and mortar school.  That, apparently, is terrible.
NZEI (union) president Louise Green said the experience of online schooling in the US was "woeful".  "All the evidence is clear that high-quality teaching is the single biggest influence in-school on children's achievement.  Education is also about learning to work and play with other children and to experience both growing independence and a range of activities outside the home.
It is ironic that when government schools are failing, the teacher unions blame anything and everything apart from the quality of teaching delivered by their members.  The problems are anything but the quality of the teaching.  Rather, the causes of substandard performance and results lie with the system, the curriculum, the hapless NCEA mess, the size of class rooms, and not enough government money (always, not enough money).  The poor quality of teachers and teaching is never mentioned as a reason why pupils are not being taught to read, write, and do maths.

But, overnight the unions have apparently had a major change of heart.  Suddenly high quality teaching is the most important aspect of all.   But their suppressed assumption, however, is that high quality teaching cannot take place in a distance education model over Skype or some other technology.

Angela Roberts, another union leader, doesn't even get that far.  She dismisses the whole on-line school iniiative by trotting out doctrinaire Marxist drivel:
Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) president Angela Roberts said the change would only benefit private business.  "Our students are not a commodity to be traded on the open market...there is no new opportunity created by this. The only advantage is to business to dip their hand in to the public purse."
Crass ideology has turned Roberts into the most myopic and predictable of automatons.

In the meantime, home schooling has been remarkably successful in terms of its educational outputs. Clearly there are more educationally successful models than the traditional institutional school. Oftentimes home schooling families combine together for social activities to compensate for the relative social isolation.  In addition, the State run national correspondence school has been in existence for decades.  The chairwoman of its Board, Dame Karen Sewell had this to say:
"They will give young people and their whanau the right to choose the education that best suits their needs. Students could choose to learn online or face-to-face, or a mix of both, and have access to a much broader range of subjects regardless of the size and type of school they are attending.

"Many of these young people are referred to Te Kura after long periods of disengagement from education and when all other options have been exhausted," said Dame Karen.  "Under the proposed changes students, with the support of their whanau or school, could choose to come to Te Kura - or to another COOL (Community of Online Learning) - and continue with their learning programme in an environment which may be better suited to them."
For our part, we believe in the strong, abiding influence of a learning community.  The ancient proverb says thus: "iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another".  [Proverbs 27:17].  The sharpening of the mind takes place in the exchange between teacher and pupils; but it also takes place in the exchange between one pupil and another.  But, at the same time, this can be a negative influence when it comes to learning.  Iron can also blunt iron.  School communities can be environments which are inimical to effective learning and study.  In such cases--and they are not infrequent nor isolated--COOL schools might offer parents a way ahead.

One of the more hapless responses came from a politician:
 NZ First education spokeswoman Tracey Martin said the changes amounted to a "social experiment".
The government secular education system has been one vast and relentless social experiment conducted over one hundred and forty years.  It is largely a story of progressive failure.  If Martin were self-aware she would have realised that to criticise on-line schools as a social experiment amounts to an oxymoron.  Everyone else in the educational establishment thinks social experimentation via the education system is what sophisticated education is all about.

The jury is out over on-line schools.  Doubtless there will be failures and successes.  But they have one virtue--on-line schools offer parents some options and choices, whereas at present they have very few.  For the first time, in well over a century, parents will be able to vote on the quality of their local schools with their feet.  That has to be a step forward.

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