A shift to online learning by New Zealand’s largest school could shut some children out, political commentators say.
About 1000 of the Correspondence School’s 23,000 roll are geographically isolated children who range in age from early childhood to year 13, chief executive Mike Hollings said.
The school aims for all course material and lessons to be online by 2018.
Rangitikei farmer Angela McIntyre has spoken out about rural families difficulties using Correspondence School online lessons on properties where internet and power are unreliable, including offshore islands.
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Many had been pressured to go online or told there was no alternative, she said, while others were strongly opposed to internet delivered learning.
The move puts students’ education at risk and goes against mounting international evidence showing online learning is a “bad” model, New Zealand First education spokeswoman Tracey Martin said.
“As the Correspondence School has been moving toward full online learning and away from the traditional paper-based resources, fewer students are achieving NCEA qualifications.”
NCEA level 1 went online in 2016.
“Last year there was a 10 per cent decline in students achieving NCEA level 1.”
The Government moves to develop Communities of Online Learning, allowing students to choose to learn online, were “alarming” in this climate, she said.
Rural Woman New Zealand president Fiona Gower said they were sympathetic to online education, but concerned it could be a negative move for some children.
Paper-based alternatives should continue to be offered, she said.
“Some of these students have little choice on their schooling due to remoteness or other issues.
“Some could be potentially disadvantaged with failure to make deadlines due to issue with connectivity and power. If you don’t have power you don’t have access, this must also be taken into account.”
Mike Hollings said online learning was “far more effective and interactive”.
Families with no or very little internet access could apply for a staff assessment of their circumstances, and in exceptions may be given printed copies of online course work.
Personal preference or difficulty accessing a device would not be considered.
Lucy Thomson-Ryan and Chris Thomson live on an isolated sheep and beef farm in Otago, about 45 minutes from their closest town.
Their daughter Zara, 11, now learns by post through the school after they had a bad experience with internet learning for their son Archie, who now goes to boarding school.
Some staff had been unsympathetic to explanations about patchy internet availability in their location, she said.
“In tests the words would come down with no graphics, but the timer’s ticking away waiting for an answer.
“If the weather is erratic [the satellite internet] blanks out. I’ve tried to tell the Correspondence School we’ve only got school if we’ve got power and we’ve got clear sky.”
In 2013 power was out a week because of snow, and they expect the same this winter.
As with many farming families, they don’t own the farm or the internet connection, and the farm takes priority for internet use.
Farming relies on families, and many need mail-based lessons to live where their jobs are, she said.
“We run a multi-million dollar business. We are there because it’s a great job and we have great employers, but we don’t want to send a [young child] to prep school three hours away.”
“It was originally set up for the distance learners, and we’ve become the minority as a result of disenfranchised children from urban schools and business.”