Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is Enrolling your Child in a Virtual School Still Homeschooling?

by Beverley Paine
Just read an article about the merits of virtual schools: is enrolling in a virtual school that provides the whole curriculum still homeschooling? What do you think? 
In this article, through the virtual school the students in all years (preschool to year12) are supervised at home by their parent ('Learning Coach') and taught by state certified teachers through online classroom technology, phone and email communication. Teaching, testing, grading and motivating the children to learn is the responsibility of the trained teacher.
Homeschooling seems to be moving more in this direction as families lose confidence in the school system and parents are more familiar and comfortable with information technology and the internet.
I applaud the ability we have as home educators to carefully select resource to match our children's learning needs and preferences - that's the foundation on which my understanding of home education is built.

Distance education styled for adults also recognises the importance of being able to select resources to meet the individual's educational need.

Distance education for children is different though: it's compulsory nature disallows the ability to select according to individual need. Children are compelled by law to be educated and adults deem the how, where and why of it.

The virtual schools discussed and endorsed in the article I read supply complete curriculum packages are private distance education schools for children: they are meant to replace the parent as the person that determines the how, where and why of education, reducing the parent to the role of supervisor.

We're not talking about parents picking up a few subjects (such as Reading Eggs, Mathletics, etc or even a subject or two from Open Uni in the teens years) here and there to meet individual children's needs - we're talking about a service that is designed to meet the organisational and management needs of parents who for whatever reason don't want their children to be educated in this manner in a classroom in a school.

It is exactly like doing distance education through the state school system, except perhaps with less accountability by the provider if the virtual school is not registered or accredited as a school in Australia (an important consideration for 15-17 year old students doing high school subjects).

The nature and direction of homeschooling has changed since my family began educating our children from home in 1985. The scope and practice of home education has broadened considerably as it has become a visible and viable option. 'Homeschool' or 'home education' took the school out of education and placed the education of children where it belonged: in busy homes interacting with busy communities. Now the 'school' is back, claiming a legitimate place within home education as an option for parents.

When I first noticed this trend arising (alerted to it by the principal of my local school after a national meeting of school principals on the topic of online learning and the effect it would have on schools), I felt sad and worried that something of the pioneering spirit of forging a new approach to education would be lost and with it the powerful message that children learn best freed from the limited resources and constraints of the classroom. I hope not. I hope that the bold brave experiments in education of the last 40 years, with home educators at the forefront, won't be succumbed to simply yet another form of schooling, one that seeks to manage and control education rather than focusing on the needs of individual learners.