Are online schools the future of education? – New

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen many schools move the site from classrooms to virtual space. But a number of online schools, specializing in e-learning, have already started to hold their own.

By Anu Prabhakar

Published: Thu 23 June 2022, 16:50

Dante Bonet Espinosa, 17, does not take the bus or the car to go to school. In fact, he doesn’t “go” to school at all — instead, he turns on his laptop and logs into his class. Her classes start around 11:30 a.m. and, depending on the schedule, end either at 4:30 p.m. or a little later. The teenager from Dubai spends the rest of his day pursuing other interests like karate, learning Japanese, hanging out with friends and giving piano lessons to children.

The year 12 student has been studying at UK-based King’s InterHigh online school since 2017. “We are big fans of online education, which I believe is the future “says his mother Sabrina, who works as a business consultant. “It is affordable, adapts to the diverse needs of parents and students and provides quality education.

Students and parents have become familiar with the concept of online teaching and discovered its joys (and horrors, depending on who you ask) during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But for parents who were looking for an alternative way to teach their children, enrolling them in a long-term online school seemed like the logical thing to do. It also seemed like the right step for kids dealing with bullying, mental health issues, etc.

Tahoora Khalil, Middle East Manager, King’s InterHigh, explains that many parents have opted to stay in their online school even as schools around the world have resumed offline lessons. “For many families in the Middle East, online education is a route to top international universities and they pursue an international education at high school age to increase their chances of admission,” says- she. The school has 400 students in the Middle East.

Closer to home, Dubai-based online school iCademy Middle East has 1,500 students enrolled across the Middle East and IT manager Fazal Rehman says the pandemic has caused student enrollment to rise. “We offer high-quality American education with flexibility, for K-12 students,” he says, adding that most teachers are based in the United States and Canada.

Connect to digital classrooms

In an online school, all classes, school activities and events – such as exhibitions, festivals and workshops – and internal assessments take place online. Classrooms feel cosmopolitan and futuristic, with students connecting and attending classes from around the world using virtual reality technology and artificial intelligence. Classrooms are also smaller, with a better teacher-student ratio – for example, UK-based online school Sophia High School has one teacher for every six children. Schools are also equipped with online student portals and learning management systems to record student grades.

Apart from the basic academic subjects, the schools also focus on unconventional subjects. “Wellness, mindfulness and personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) are at the heart of our school,” says David McCarthy, Director of Education, Sophia High School. “Grades 5 and 6 practice chime meditation at the start of each lesson, to encourage focus and calm. We also practice a gratitude exercise about twice a week. More recently we talked about laughter therapy and we have a very open dialogue about mental well-being, anxiety, stress. And finally, we also try to squeeze it into the chi gong.

The school has students aged 3 to 15, from all over the GCC region. “Online schools are growing in popularity, particularly in the GCC region, due to the high standards on offer, matching the academic standards and provision of UK independent schools. They offer exceptional value for money, which is especially important in times of school hyperinflation and a global education crisis,” said Melissa McBride, CEO and Co-Founder. “At our school, we offer the full UK private school experience, delivered in a fully online environment for a third of the cost of an independent school.”

Khalil describes online schooling as a “more accessible, affordable and modern alternative” to international schools in the Middle East or boarding schools in the UK. At the school, which takes students from Primary, Secondary, IGCSE, A-Level and, from this year, the IB Diploma Programme, tuition fees for the 2022 academic year -23 starts at £2,900 (Dh13,095) for Key Stage 2 (i.e., ages 7-11), and goes up to £5,200 (Dh23,481) for students from Key Stage 5 (i.e. ages 16+) taking 3 A Levels – however this all varies depending on the subjects chosen by the student.

Flexibility is key

One of its main advantages is flexibility. “Each lesson is recorded to allow students to revisit the content at any time, ensuring that no topic or topic is left without being fully understood. This also allows them to catch up on missed lessons,” says Khalil. Sophia High School, too, provides “access to resources and recorded lessons” through Google Classroom. This makes the format popular among aspiring actors, sports enthusiasts, and travel enthusiasts, as it allows them to stay in school while pursuing a busy life. Sabrina, for example, says it has allowed her son to compete internationally in MTG (or Magic: The Gathering) games.

Abu Dhabi-based property consultant Abdul Kasim Qureshi says his son, who is now in 6th grade, has always wanted to be a professional footballer. “He has to train 6-8 hours a day at the academy. Since traditional schools don’t offer the children so much time and freedom, we chose an online school because of its flexibility and the one-on-one attention given to our son,” he explains.Qureshi enrolled his son in the online school K8 School based in India, where he follows an American curriculum.

Parents brush off concerns about the lack of face-to-face interactions with peers. Qureshi explains that his son has around 40-50 friends from all over the world as he is in several student groups at school. “He also has a lot of friends at the football academy,” he says.

King’s InterHigh, meanwhile, offers students the opportunity to mingle in-person through summer camps and exchange programs at “more than 80 international schools on five continents.”

Accreditations and Memberships

In our email interview, Fazal Rehman says iCademy Middle East is accredited by NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges). “We are also accredited by the KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority),” he adds. The UK government website, while acknowledging the increase in online schools in England, describes them as “currently unregulated”. “We are one of four online schools in the UK chosen to work with the UK Department for Education and the Office for Standards in Education, Childcare and Skills on the pilot scheme online education accreditation scheme for online education providers in the UK, and we are working towards accreditation under this,” says McBride, adding that the school is a member of the Council of International Schools. King’s InterHigh is affiliated with Pearson Edexcel, Cambridge and AQA. “Our school is also listed on the UK Register of Learning Providers,” says Khalil.

Rema Menon Vellat, director of Counseling Point Training and Development, says students are accepted into most institutions as long as their degree is issued by a genuine and accredited body. However, she issues a warning. “Interactions with peers are very important, especially in adolescence. Students and parents need to be active participants in support groups where students come together…Collaboration, communication, problem solving are all 21st century skills, which can be affected if we don’t take the right steps to respond to these needs.

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Karen O. Fielding