Wednesday, June 29, 2005

There's no place like home...

I note with interest the BBC's report of the launch of an online school. The main (only?) criticism in the report is that children will lose out on social interaction with their peers.

MSN Messenger picture. (c) MicrosoftI have a couple of questions about this report. Firstly, what do we mean by social interaction? It may be a different style of interaction than you would get in the playground, but there is still social interaction. For example, we were recently looking for a sanction to apply to daughter number 1 for some misdemeanour. We decided that banning her from MSN Messenger for the rest of the week might be appropriate. Her response to this was one of total outrage! She's a teenager, so that is pretty much the default reaction to anything her parents say, but she seemed genuinely upset on this occasion. From her point of view we had definitely slipped into the realm of "cruel and unusual punishment". She complained, "...but how am going to talk to my friends?" She uses MSN to keep in touch with friends she has made at orchestra camps, Summer Academy, etc, friends that live at some geographical distance that she doesn't see often/at all, as well as school and church friends she sees on a regular basis. As far as I can see, she is engaged in social interaction online that is just as important to her as the social interaction that takes place in the playground.

However, my second question is, what do we mean by school? A union rep quoted in the BBC's article says:
School is not just about academic learning, it is about learning to deal with life.
I'm not entirely sure what is meant by the second part of that sentence, but I agree wholeheartedly with the first part. It's about the intangible elements of schooling as well as the obvious academic elements. It's about the clubs and societies. It's about bumping into each other in the corridor (sometimes literally). It's about the school shows. It's about the charity days... It's about all these things and more. It's the coming together of a community of people (learners, teachers and others) and the physical location. It's like the difference between being at Glastonbury and just watching it on the telly. If you watch on the telly, you may have a better view of the bands, the sound quality may be better and you may be warm and dry, but you miss out on so much that you can only get by being there... Dysentery for example :-)

As you can see then, I'm in two minds. Part of me says, "Why not?" It is a different experience from physically attending school, but there could be many benefits. The other part of me says, "But what is lost?"

What do you think? What would be gained by attending an online school? What would be lost? Is it the best solution for a particular (minority?) group, for example children who are already not attending school or is it a solution that would work for most children?

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