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Back to school: Should we ditch it for virtual learning?

“Belligerent ghouls, run Manchester schools…” keens the opening lines to the Headmaster’s Ritual [YouTube video] from the 1985 Smiths album Meat is Murder. Released a full ten years after the lyricist and lead singer, Morrissey, left school, the chorus sears with the heartfelt present tense: “I want to go home, I don't want to stay, give up education, as a bad mistake…”  

Everyone remembers school. Many people hated it. A lot of people in the public eye are rather spirted on the subject. Some even set it all as the benchmark against all future instances of unhappiness. Yet it is also seen as a compulsory rite of passage. And the whole notion of home schooling can generate very strong reactions indeed.

So, do developments in technology change any of this?

Dan Oja who produces eLearning content and solutions and has contributed regularly to IDG Connect on these topics suggests: “As interactive digital textbooks ‘become the course’, home schooled students will have access to essentially the same content and the same auxiliary resources as students in traditional courses.”

Ross Mountney, who home schooled her two children in the UK from 1999 and has written books on the subject, along with endless impassioned articles, adds some personal context: “When we first started we weren’t hooked up to the web and designers and educationalists hadn’t realised its potential as a learning tool.”

Danielle Spiessl also educated her seven children at home from 1988, which sounds an incredibly tough job, and describes the changes as follows: “When I first started home school all tests were sent in and graded. Then they were returned about two weeks later. Getting in touch with a home school teacher at Home Study International was also done through post mail.” 

Things have “changed enormously” agrees Mountney “both in terms of access to knowledge, and through the wealth of learning resources that are available online, many for free.”

“Today home school is set up more like a university online course,” adds Spiessl. “Everything is done online. Tests are graded right away, and there is better communications between student and teacher.”

Yet the real trouble with home schooling is there is a perception issue. Broad consensus appears to be kids who don’t go to school will become unspecifically weird, poorly socialised and probably educationally substandard.

This flies in the face of most real-life learning techniques, of course, and much of the evidence from those who have been through either system. Ross Mountney actually includes a YouTube link on her site of her rather articulate daughter to provide the other point of view.   

Oja believes the increasing ability to collaborate on work projects has addressed some of the criticisms people had with home schooling in the past:

“Home-schooled students are no longer isolated—they can collaborate with children from anywhere in the world. As online collaboration becomes increasingly relevant in daily life, in education, and in many professions; it seems that experience with online collaboration may actually help home schooled children compete more effectively in higher education and in the work place of the future.”

“The net has [made it possible] to network and connect with others doing the same,” says Mountney. “This brings families together in physical groups for moral support and social interaction as well as learning activities. It also shares knowledge and resources around, nationally and globally.”

“No one need home educate in isolation any more – which is one of the quite unjustified criticisms of home educated children,” she continues.

Will more parents choose to home school in future?

“I see technology as an enabling factor [in] making it easier for parents to provide quality education for their children at home,” agrees Oja. “But, I don’t really see technology as a primary deciding factor in whether or not parents [choose to] home school their children.”

“I think we will see more people home schooling their children in the future,” he continues. “But I believe most will make that choice because of perceived problems with educational outcomes or unhappiness with local or parental control over educational content and processes. If traditional education does not meet the needs of parents or students, I believe they will increasingly look for other ways to get the education they want and need.”

Spiessl however, is more cautious and is not sure that the opportunities brought by new technology will have any significant impact. “Home schooling requires a lot of hard work on the part of parents. There are many good private schools that are available to parents that want better education for their children.  I don't think with the improved tech support it will make parents more prone to home school their children.”

This view is not shared by Mountney: “I feel that these online learning and networking opportunities will give parents the confidence to home school where once they might have felt too scared. What it also does is challenge the myth that children need to be in school in order to learn. There are many, many children who do not thrive in school, whom school doesn’t suit, and schools who let kids down.”

“Many parents abhor the ‘cloning’ of their kids through the prescribed and controlled system schooling has become where all individuality is lost,” she continues. “The rise in confidence in home schooling, and the successes families are making of it as home schooled kids grow up and become active and productive members of society, and their visibility on the net, will challenge this prescriptive system that fails so many which can only be good!”

Home schooling requires a lot of dedication from one or both parents for a very long time. Yes, problems with most educational systems are well documented: from the extremely expensive faux-Spartan society of English boarding schools, to the compulsory coolness of the US high school system. Yet, despite this, home schooling does throw up issues of its own, not all of which can be addressed by technology.

“I think there are many positive aspects associated with home schooling,” concludes Spiessl. “The student can proceed at their own rate and doesn't have to wait for other students to catch up. However, there are also some negative aspects as well. There is no competition to make a student want to do better.  If a student has any kind of learning disability the parent may not recognise it, or be able to find help to solve the problem.”

Yet technology definitely does change things. As Oja puts it: “I believe interactive digital content can improve educational outcomes in all situations, including traditional classrooms, self-paced learning, and home schooling.”

“Learning is learning, no matter where it occurs, and features that enhance learning in one environment will almost certainly enhance learning in other environments as well.”

 

This was first published on IDG Connect on 14th October 2014: http://www.idgconnect.com/blog-abstract/8939/how-has-tech-impacted-home-schooling

 

Also read:

Nebraska: ‘Online high school’ to boost graduation rates

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