NOTICE | Online schools: red flags and warning signs to watch out for

“There is a sense of excitement about the possibilities inherent in intelligently designing online schools.”

Chris van Niekerk serves as Managing Director: ADvTECH Niche Schools. Here, he offers an overview of online schools and potential dangers to watch out for.


The pandemic, especially the hard lockdown, has forced many parents to consider home schooling their children through online education platforms.

We have also seen an explosion of new online “schools”, in which, in many cases, former non-entities in the field of education have miraculously become experts in the pedagogy of education overnight. learning, programs and child development.

As a former school principal and now chief executive of a group of schools, I have watched this process – of educational change on the one hand and unabashed opportunism on the other – proceed with great interest.

There is a sense of excitement at the possibilities inherent in the smart design of online schools. Yet an equal sense of dread seeing the irresponsible opportunism to which too many unsuspecting parents and children are subjected in this space.

Read: You might want to look at these local online schools this year

As we emerge from the strict life of the pandemic and children return to physical schools, many of our principals have reported that the damage caused by some of the less scrupulous online schools is evident.

Children who fell behind were given inflated marks that did not reflect their actual ability. In most cases, the kids come from online schools that have become famous over the past couple of years, not because of their reputation, but because of their marketing efforts.

These schools make bold claims about liberating education or being a real school in your home, but the evidence points to the opposite with disappointed and disillusioned children who have been abandoned by opportunists.

Based on my experience in physical education and overseeing a home schooling offering as part of our schools brand group, I would like to encourage parents to look for the following two salient red flags when they are considering online home schooling.

1. Emulate a physical school timetable

Many schools, including the brands I work with, made the tough lockdown to switch to an online schedule that mimicked the same daily learning routine children would have had in a traditional school.

This was an acceptable short-term solution in the context of difficult confinement. However, to take this concept and continue to promote it as true homeschooling is educationally irresponsible and unsound.

The thought of hundreds of South African children being placed in front of computer screens for six hours a day for their entire young lives, in lieu of a proper holistic education, should be terrifying to any objective observer.

Parents should never put their children through this except to deal with a temporary emergency.

Must read: Online vs In-Person Education: What’s the Cost Difference in 2021?

2. Recorded lessons with ‘help’

When it comes to education, the only thing worse than a kid sitting around and watching lessons on a screen for six hours a day would be if those lessons weren’t even live.

Imagine a 14-year-old child, home alone with nothing more educational stimulation than organized recordings of school lessons!

Service providers selling these products suggest that teens have the discipline to manage their school days with the help of a mentor whose role is to effectively organize learning content for the child.

In reality, children are deprived of all real-time collaborative learning and are expected to equip themselves for adulthood from the isolation of their bedroom. Again, this is an objectively flawed approach.

Online homeschooling is possible and offers many exciting opportunities for improving family and community life. It also opens many exciting pedagogical paths of absolute individualized learning paths with all the complexity that entails.

However, for this to be true, we as parents must first accept that children (of any age) cannot simply be placed in front of a screen for hours on end with the fantasy that they will gain the experiences of life necessary to shape them well. – rounded adults.

If your online homeschooling program provider does not offer:

  • An integrated, well-balanced and intelligent approach to screen time and green time
  • A transparent and evidence-based methodology to enable individual learning journeys
  • Does not understand and respond to your child’s built-in social needs

Next, I would strongly advise parents not to put their children through the torture of isolation and inappropriate learning pedagogy, no matter how flashy.

You have every right to expect more from this dominant market, and the best deals are indeed out there.

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Karen O. Fielding