By Louise Schoonwinkel, Managing Director of Optimi Home  

As parents, we tend to make conservative choices when it comes to our children’s education. COVID-19 forced us to be more open-minded and look at alternative education methods, such as online schooling. It took a global pandemic to push the boundaries of how we define education – a system that hasn’t changed all that much in the last century.

While there were initially many hurdles to overcome (and there still are today), many parents realised that their children could thrive in an online education environment, with many learners excelling when schooled at home. In turn, this has accelerated South Africa’s readiness and appetite for online schooling, which will hopefully open more doors to bring accessible, quality, and affordable education to children across the country and continent. The beauty of online schooling is that it has the potential to offer all that and more.

How does online schooling compare to traditional education and homeschooling?

Traditional education requires enrolling a child with a public or private school. These schools are registered with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and take full responsibility for teaching the learner all the necessary material and conducting all assessments to ensure the learner is ready to progress to the next grade.

Homeschooling is a legal alternative for parents or guardians wanting to take responsibility for their children’s education. However, the parent can enlist the help of a homeschooling provider and a tutor for more difficult subjects. This time, it’s up to the parent to ensure the curriculum is covered and the learner is adequately assessed.

On the other hand, online schooling is a method of teaching, which can be applied in both traditional schools or homeschooling environments. At this stage, the DBE hasn’t yet made a provision for online schools to register as official schools. Therefore, these schools are registering with the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (SACAI) as homeschooling providers.

What are the pros and cons of online schooling?

One of the biggest advantages of online schooling is the flexibility it offers. Children worldwide can learn from the comfort and safety of their homes without needing to miss school due to circumstances outside of their control, like a pandemic or illness. This also means that online schooling can be more comfortable and natural for learners who do not interact well in large, in-person classrooms.

Secondly, online school fees are substantially lower than traditional private schools. Textbooks and other resources are often included in these fees, meaning that parents who go the online schooling route don’t have to pay extra for lesson material. Online schooling also removes additional costs like the cost of school uniforms and transport fees.

When attending an online school, learners and parents don’t have to travel to and from school, and therefore saves time, our most precious commodity. This extra time can be spent on extra-curricular activities, studying, or socialising with friends.

As with other education methods, there are some disadvantages to online schooling. Most importantly, to make the most of this method of learning, families need to have certain systems in place, such as:

  • a dedicated study space,
  • a laptop or computer,
  • a stable internet connection, and
  • a power alternative like a generator or inverter (due to increasing load shedding).

Some also argue that online schooling is not ideal for highly sociable children who thrive on interaction with others. Depending on how the online school is run, learners don’t have to feel isolated and can still engage with their teachers and peers. At Impaq Online School this is addressed through engagement during classes, activity days, and collaboration projects, enabling learners to connect and collaborate with teachers and other learners.

How does online schooling assist multitasking parents who are working from home and trying to teach their children?

Online schooling empowers these parents by creating structure. Classes, timetables, and lessons are all planned and set out by the teachers, removing unnecessary stress from parents who are already juggling work demands. Parents can also rest assured knowing that highly qualified teachers cover the most critical academic concepts.

Furthermore, online schooling is beneficial for children who struggle with self-directed learning as it’s a ‘school at home’, where teachers direct the learning done at home. Some online schools even provide additional services, such as fitness classes, wellness resources, and counselling, shifting the focus from purely academic excellence to include health and wellbeing, giving learners a more well-rounded experience.

Taking the next step

As the education industry evolves, online schooling is undoubtedly making its mark as a viable alternative to traditional schooling. This future-forward solution has the legs to grow into much more. Imagine a future where online schooling can be used to give equal schooling to learners across the globe.