SMARTER SCHOOLS | by Michael Spencer
Examining the drivers of the explosive growth in online learning here and to the South.
It is a well-known fact that over 6 million students in the U.S. are enrolled in some kind of online learning program. This number continues to grow unbelievably, past everyone’s expectations, year after year, with no stop or leveling off in sight. It has been predicted that by the year 2019, (less than seven years from now!) fifty percent of high school students will be required to take an online course as a high school graduation requirement. The drivers of this explosive online learning trend in the U.S. are many:
- The high school dropout rate has remained unchanged, regardless of the amount time and money spent on dropout prevention in the past. Already after the introduction of online learning opportunities in high schools programs, the dropout rates are falling. Online learning in it various format is making a difference.
- Technological advancements have boosted the education stakeholder’s realization that combining technology into education is not only a good fit, but it is essential for today’s students. Today’s students are different, they are technology savvy and immersed in technology. There is readily available online curriculum for students that engages them, while tracking the important data that educators need to drive achievement performance based education. Prudent and flexible use of current brick and mortar buildings and human resources can increase the student enrollment capacity of the facility and reduce costs.
- The current traditional education system generally does not meet the individual needs of students. Students in an online flexible mode are given choices of time, place, and path are feeling empowered in their individualized program, which increases their motivation to learn which in turn starts the wheel of success in motion.
- There is proof that “more of the same” is not working to increase test scores (the U.S. PISA score is an example). Only in the past 5 to 10 years has the technology, software and focus on dynamically improving education come together to launch this current online learning revolution.
To the South
Latin American countries are moving toward online learning models of education as well. Generally:
- A noticeable growth sector seems to be in the use of online learning programs in foreign companies and in the banking industry. Private companies are utilizing online curriculum to be able to provide industry specific consistent high quality training and professional development for their employees.
- Fourteen Latin American countries have formed The Latin American Net of Education Portals for The Information and Communications (ICT). The countries agreed to combine efforts to cooperate in meeting the challenges facing the school systems in the use of ICT in the educational environment. The goal is for countries to cooperate and exchange national content and to improve the regional online quality of education. This heightened technological awareness is a positive collaborative step toward improving the overall quality of education and the school system.
- Mexico, Chile, Panama and Brazil have made strides toward country wide technological improvements and accessibility. In Panama, in particular, towers have been constructed to fulfill the countries’ desire for Internet access to all people in all areas, coupled with government “hot spots” throughout the country. The Latin American countries have the benefit of learning the ropes from the mistakes and success of nearby United States, thus avoiding costly experiments of what has worked and what did not work.
- The overall economic growth in some Latin American countries has produced a thriving middle class, which did not exist even 10 years ago. The purchasing of a computer is now a necessity for this group. This new emerging middle class is desirous that their children receive a quality modern education and now have the capability to acquire it.
- The reality is that the high school graduation rates and literacy rates in Latin America are not at an acceptable level either. The school systems generally are failing to meet the educational needs of their students. The Latin American countries participating in the PISA program are performing dismally low.
- The journey ahead requires the writing of well thought out legislation that will appropriately regulate the quality of online education, without stifling the innovation and growth of the online movement.
Specifically, in Latin America:
- A growth in online learning in the Latin American high school and middle school sector is growing and has been bolstered by the relocation of corporate headquarters and manufacturing plants. Examples of these companies are: Toyota in Mexico, Proctor & Gamble in Panama, and the recent discoveries of oil in Brazil, have created an education demand on the existing, already at capacity, private educational facilities. The corporate employees that need to educate their children have moved to the forefront the corporate demand for the availability of quality consistent education alternatives. The corporate and parental demands are clear and the private sector is gearing up to meet this ever increasing demand.
- Today with the ever increasing mobile society, parents have deep concerns regarding education when moving their children from one country to another. Families regardless of where they live in Latin America now have opportunities to contract with online curriculum programs as Latin America has the communication infrastructure to support online learning programs. Online education curriculum providers offer consistent high quality products and services combined with the convenience of mobility. And a big plus, the online curriculum provides more course choices than might otherwise be available in a traditional school. So regardless of the country locale or level of mobility the student can maintain enrollment. Parents who want to relocate to a Latin American county can do so without trepidation, which was not so only a few years ago.
The Good News
The private education sector in some Latin American countries is stepping forward to meet the demand for quality education, by using online curriculum and in developing flexible or blended school. The flex classroom model is more straightforward, less complicated yet more effective, from an educational standpoint, enabling the offering of a quality 21st century education product that is superlative for students, while putting parental concerns at bay.
In my opinion, the benefits and the ease of using an accredited online curriculum provider make the financial investment more feasible from the business perspective. Through the use of online curriculum by individuals, existing schools and the development of flex schools, the online education system I am sure will continue to grow in Latin America.
Today, online learning in blended school settings can be found in: Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico. Additionally, interest in being expressed and efforts are being made toward online blended middle and high school start ups in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Columbia. Several governments are even expressing their interest in implementing online curriculum blended school models in their remote and crowded city and urban schools.
Watch or join in, but I know without a doubt that we will see Latin America’s online education revolution disrupting the traditional outdated system. This is definitely a lead, follow or get out of the way situation. I believe the online education growth explosion is coming — and soon.
Michael Spencer is Senior Director of International Business Development at K12. He is past SVP at The American Education Corporation and past president of One2OneMate, with extensive experience building businesses, designing and manufacturing innovative consumer electronic products and successfully marketing them into the US, European and Latin American markets. He is a regular columnist writing the Smarter Schools column for EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]