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Education Must Act On Advances Made During Lockdowns

The Government must now focus on the opportunities the Covid-19 pandemic has provided our country, not just the threats.

Jamie Beaton, CEO of Crimson Global Academy - New Zealand’s first registered online high school.

In an education sense, we’ve heard about the disruption 2020 caused students and teachers, and its impact on assessments. At the same time, many capital projects across schools and universities will be deferred.

We’ve heard less about just how clever our education providers and students have been in advancing their digital capability. By that I mean successfully fast-tracking their ability to educate and learn online.

The education sector now needs to make the most of this significant online uptake, with the growth of e-learning evitable. Look at how e-commerce has transformed the likes of our transport, retail, and accommodation sectors – think Uber, Amazon, and Airbnb.

Conservatively, by 2030 online learning will make up about 50% of a secondary school student’s education time. There is nothing to fear. Face-to-face teaching at physical schools and extra-curricular activities will always play a key role in education, and so they should.

The time is ripe for greater access to online learning, something Covid-19 has shown can work better for many. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum in April, research shows that, on average, students retain 25 to 60 percent more material when learning online compared to only 8 to 10 percent in a classroom.

However, for it to be effective it needs to be real-time, live teaching with small ‘virtual’ classes. Despite all the technology we have today, it’s still about a brilliant teacher leading a classroom and inspiring young minds.

Students at online schools can indeed benefit from accessing the world’s best teachers in a particular field, not just the best teacher in their school or even region.

Already many New Zealand students are discovering that part-time online schooling, for the likes of A-Levels, is a good way to accelerate and get ahead. In addition to their existing school studies, more students are accessing international curricula recognised by the world's most competitive universities.

This is not about being down on New Zealand’s qualifications framework. This is about providing students with choice as they prepare for an increasingly globalised and diverse workforce.

The Government has done well in recent years upgrading many school campuses. The focus must now be on the students themselves and improving their opportunities and ability to learn.

Some secondary schools already provide choice when it comes to offering students internationally recognised papers and qualifications. Regardless if access to global qualifications in our state system is widened or not, let’s invest in our best and brightest.

Ideas could include students receiving acceleration credits to be used for online instruction from recognised providers. An online training academy could be established to upskill our country's education leaders, and perhaps the worst performing remote physical schools, with substandard facilities or poor access to teachers, could be digitally replaced in part or whole.

Last year 3,283 school students were suspended, up by over 25% on five years earlier. At the same time, 12 percent of last year's school leavers, or 7,464, had no NCEA qualification, up from 11 percent in 2018. Collectively, that’s over 10,000 young Kiwis a year mostly off to a poor start to adulthood.

Worsening behavioural issues and falling standards and attendance affect wider student achievement. Today’s high achievers and academically ambitious have to work around a myriad of distractions modern day life at schools bring. Sure, streaming students helps, but providing greater choice as to how they ultimately learn would be a gamechanger.

We talk about an economic recovery, but what about your child’s academic recovery? Will 2021 see more disruptions for them, or will it be the year they accelerate ahead of the pack? This year international online educators, like Crimson Global Academy (CGA), have proven that periods of upheaval and uncertainty can be used for effective progression.

The 21st century guarantees rapid change, with adaptation vital. It will see schooling become less parochial in terms of curriculum and assessment.

Increasingly, school leavers will find themselves in an international workplace or an international tertiary institution, and in competition with people from other countries. As CGA’s executive principal, John Morris, makes clear: Their credentials will need to have global currency.

Since Covid-19, many New Zealand businesses have surrendered their leases with employees now working from home, saving on emissions and in many cases lifting productivity.

Our education sector is now also at a juncture. Let’s not return to business as usual. Rather, let’s be open to new ideas and new structures, with improving student outcomes and future job opportunities at the core.

Jamie Beaton is the founder of Crimson Education and CEO of Crimson Global Academy - New Zealand’s first registered online high school.

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