Inequality in today’s educational opportunities is a huge global problem. Although it is true that in many areas of the world there are dedicated, quality teachers who provide robust educational content, there are also schools that do not offer such benefits. In their efforts to combat these deficiencies, Australian educators have turned to the Internet and related technologies to provide solutions to these issues. Just as the Internet has brought about drastic changes in the way so many other areas of life are conducted, it has also provided greater opportunities to those students who lack them. Cyber school is one of these avenues.
Bringing a quality education to all students, regardless of their circumstances, is the goal of many teachers and other education professionals who have embraced the Internet in the effort to better expose both teachers and course content to end users. With the technologies and online resources that are available today, nearly all students can have access to more of the educational opportunities offered everyone.
In the case of cyber schools and cyber schooling as a whole, at least to a great extent, however goes the United States and Great Britain, so goes Australia, Fortunately, in this case, that’s a good thing since Australia has been able to not only model certain aspects of its own cyber education opportunities after the successful uses in these other countries, but they have also been able to avoid a lot of their problems. For example, the issue of making a cyber school just a supplement for homeschooling families.
It is true that many homeschooling families would jump at the chance to use cyber schools as an addition to their efforts. This is particularly true where students might have a week or longer period where they have access to a teacher and all of their resources to add to their own. There is also the social aspect of one-on-one interface with a real teacher in addition to the time they already spend with mom and dad.
In the United States, California has had a program like this in place for years. In their program, students being home schooled can benefit from coursework that is negotiated with local school systems to take part in programs that are offered not only by the local public school system, but also by local community colleges and other educational resources. This benefit is not without its costs, of course, which includes the requirement that students check in with their alternate schools, but this program has resulted in large cuts in overhead costs to schools, including overtime, utility bills, maintenance costs, and others.
Welcome to Cyber School
One issue that has plagued cyber schools just as it has their brick and mortar counterparts is the quality of the instruction presented. This begs two questions. First, who can we trust to offer a good education, and what defines a quality education?
The truth is that many educators, parents, as well as students themselves already use the Internet and online resources to supplement their educations. It might be true that we are still in a nebulous point in the history of online resources to have much definitive evidence of success or failure, but this point can also be one of evaluation as well.
What is Cyber School Like?
It seems like it all started with HomeworkHelper, which was active in the early 1990s. It wasn’t much, but at least it was a start in the effort to make the Internet more accessible to those who were unfamiliar with how to use it for educational purposes. Used on subscription basis, students just entered their subject needs and a complete (more or less) listing came up with related (or semi-related) magazines, books, video sources, and whatever else appeared, much like what a search engine would do today. By today’s standards, Homework Helper was primitive, but it was a start.
Today, what passes as a cyber school is much more like a real school than it used to be. Thanks primarily to better graphics as well as more intuitive interfaces, cyber schools are much more able to actually teach a student what an educator would. In fact, although cyber schools are very much in their infancy, many studies conducted on the results of online educations for higher grades reveal results that are very comparable to those received from traditional classroom methods.
United Nations Cyber School Bus
A program offered by the United Nations as an addition to school efforts is the United Nations Cyber School Bus, which offers an excellent portal into the world via a dedicated website at http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus. This program has received considerable praise for its revolutionary approach to educating youngsters by giving them free access to learn about the world and the cultures that make it up.
One of the most fact-packed sections of the website is under the “Contents” tab, which is especially heavy for teachers and students who want more information about current events and their social, political, and economic impacts on the rest of the world. Whether a user is a teacher looking for curriculum materials, a student researching facts, or a parent looking for more background information on world issues, this website is paced heavy and easy to access.
There is some concern, however, that some of the subjects presented on the website such as hunger, poverty, disease, and others might be harmful to children.
There are those who are involved in the cyber school debate who are concerned with the end results. Some of them quickly embrace the concept as an alternative to traditional educational methods, and welcome it as a means of encouraging diversity in education. The trouble is that we must realize that our children are not simply consumers of educational products. They are people whose futures will depend on the quality of the education we are able to deliver today. When we jump so quickly on the bandwagon of something as untried and tested as are cyber schools in an effort to so quickly reward a few educational companies’ CEOs and other scientists, we risk the chance of short changing our children’s future.
Cyber schools will no doubt benefit certain groups in Australia just as they have in other parts of the world. This includes, most notably, the homeschoolers, who can use them as a supplement to their current efforts, but there will proabaly have to be much more study to determine the effectiveness of cyber schooling methods on the long-term effects of educating young people.
Another issue that will probably have a significant impact on the effect cyber schools have on our young people is the government, especially where the funding for such programs occur. As it has already been noted, cyber schools have proven that they can cut the costs of traditional educational methods by saving money in many different areas, but there has been very little study done on the long term effects of these cuts as well as the impact of continuing such a heavy dependence on cyber schools. Along this same order is the accountability factor. When a significant amount of education is removed from the traditional educational system, if our children fail, who will be held accountable?
In the United States, much of online education is contracted to private and not for profit organizations. The funds for public education is received from the government. For private educations, parents pay. But in the case of privately financed cyber schools, who answers when it fails? Likewise, who receives the accolades when it succeeds?
The questions about cyber schools and the impact that an Internet based education will have only started. There is certainly much more to study and learn, with even greater expected returns to be evaluated. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to just sit back and await the results of these efforts, even if they only impact one generation of students. It’s much like the phonics question years ago when that method of teaching was temporarily revised with another, more progressive method. The trouble was that phonics was eventually brought back as a more effective method of teaching language skills. But what happened with those students who didn’t get the benefit of learning via phonics?
It’s probably high time we got the issue of cyber schools out in the open more so we can learn more faster about what we might be facing it the future, it’s benefits as well as the warnings it might hold.