Why not virtual school? (Graham White)
In view of the myriad problems currently facing Shetland’s primary and secondary education provision, isn’t it time we moved into the 21st century properly and started using more of the brilliant technological facilities and innovations currently available to us?
Can the building of a completely new school in Lerwick, capable of accommodating such a large number of children, really be justified? Why can’t we use the online facilities, which are readily available, to teach most of the subjects in the curriculum to pupils in their own homes?
Pupils could still travel to school for perhaps two days a week, in order to take classes that cannot reasonably be delivered at home. Practical subjects such as craft design and technology classes, music and home economics, for example, reasonably justify the need for traditional workshops and classrooms, where facilities for special tools and equipment are required.
However, the more academic subjects such as mathematics, English, history, geography, religious education, etc, require no such facilities and are much better taught live online, with no disruption or disturbance.
Instead of every pupil travelling to the Anderson High School five days a week, only half that number (or less) would need to be in attendance at any given time, thus requiring greatly reduced infrastructure of buildings and facilities.
Already in England and Wales, at least three online schools have been operating very successfully for more than four years, so that children no longer need to attend a brick-and-mortar school at all.
One of the online schools (www.interhigh.co.uk) is even offering to “sub-let” its excellent online facilities to local education authorities, in order that schools may run their own classes/curriculum, using the full suite of “Interhigh” facilities. Surely, this would be a better solution for communities such as Skerries, Sandness, Burravoe, North Roe and Uyeasound. It could potentially save pupils and parents in these areas considerable inconvenience and financial outlay on transportation, school meals, accommodation, etc.
The online school “Interhigh” charged just £2,220 to provide a full year’s education for each pupil (2010-2011). This has to be a much cheaper option than providing and maintaining school buildings, office staff, caterers, cleaners, teachers, classroom assistants, etc. for schools in remote areas, with insufficient numbers of pupils to justify the expense.
It would also negate the argument put forward by so many people about “ripping the heart out” of small communities, by closing schools in the more remote areas. There is no need for children to leave home for education any more.
One argument I repeatedly hear when outlining the advantages of virtual education, is that children need social interaction. My counter-argument is that – on the contrary – the child can easily leave the “goldfish-bowl” scenario of the village school and socially interact face-to-face and with peers in the next village and/or throughout the whole world from his/her own home – via the internet.
Fortunately, in Shetland, plenty of facilities already exist for “local” social interaction, outside of school hours, thanks to heavy expenditure on leisure centres, swimming pools and sports hall facilities.
Bear in mind that the USA already has over one million children currently being educated online and that this number is increasing, at a compound rate of more than 25 per cent per annum.
Decision makers involved in provision of education facilities in Shetland could be well advised to spend a little time browsing around the online school websites, to see the very impressive facilities on offer. Then, listen to the points of view from pupils and parents already using these comprehensive facilities, before wasting any more millions of pounds of our money on hugely expensive school infrastructure, which may well become redundant in a decade or so.
1 Staney Hill,