Education is something all parents devote considerable thought to as their children grow. Our institutions have an enormous impact on how our children develop, communicate, interact, the friends they make, and ultimately their career’s progression. Today, we discuss how online schools have become the preferred option for some parents and what influences their decision.

Making do when options are few and far between

Often, financial circumstance and location understandably influence our choices, and at times, we make decisions less desirable than those we would typically consider. Naturally, we want the very best for our children, so to enable me to better connect with you, I wanted to provide a real-life example of what has driven my decisions personally over the years; the struggles I’ve had, and the outcome of those decisions.

Although Australian raised, I was living in Central America with my wife and two young children when the matter of education first came to the fore with my son reaching school age. As we were living in a Spanish speaking country, my son had grown up in a bi-lingual household. As circumstances would have it; adjustments to our expectations were required.

Our options were to either send my son to a public school where Spanish was the only language or invest in private school education. Both options were, in reality, not options but rather a lack of choice. I needed to dig deeper.

It was the year 2010, and online learning was still, very much in its infant stage, with study options primarily limited to English and Maths, with a user experience best described as somewhat awkward. I was able to find one website after considerable research which followed the Australian curriculum and began to homeschool my son.

The results were quite remarkable.

Later, that very year, we migrated back to Australia, and I gave little thought to sending my son and daughter who was now of school age to a public school conveniently located just down the road from where we lived.

The public school system

At the time, the decision gave me significant relief; I was no longer required to sit with my son for several hours each day to ensure he fully grasped all he was studying. It was now the responsibility of the Education Department to educate my child and prepare him for adulthood, and, although I had some reservations, I was more or less OK with this decision.

As each year rolled by I became increasingly concerned about the lack of progress my children seemed to be making, in fact, my son often commented on how he had not yet covered material we studied together while overseas. My daughter seemed to struggle with English and my son with Maths, their grades suffered, but I continued to get glowing reports from teachers about their excellent progress even though they were failing.

Something was wrong.

The much-dreaded out-of-zone restriction

When the time arrived to consider my son’s options for his upcoming high-school year, my belief in the school system was somewhat in tatters. To add insult to injury, Australia’s public school policy prevents students from attending school outside their zone, something which infuriates many parents. You see, our local high school had a reputation for bullying, drugs, poor attendance, and other disturbing behavioral habits.

Attending the local high-school was not an option.

After many fruitless appeals to the Education Department, defeat seemed inevitable, and the dread of sending my son and daughter to a school I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy had become a reality. In those last moments of despair, I’d enquired into a not so local Christian School. Up until this moment, I hadn’t considered private education an option but determined to avoid the inevitable I picked up the phone.

Private schooling really was worth it.

Yes, it wasn’t cheap, and as a single parent on a median wage, it was a stretch, but I managed to send my son to a Christian High School for 2 1/2 years before the whole COVID-19 madness put a spanner in the works. Was private school worth it? Absolutely. My son made many friends, the kind you don’t lose sleepover. His mindset switched from hating school to absolutely loving it, and in his own words; “it was a 10/10 experience”.

Although my son’s experience is by no means unique, I do believe his experience is attributable to the fact he was in the excellent company of fellow Christian students who shared similar values.

Now, to be clear, this article is not an attack on the public school system. Many students have achieved remarkable results, but it’s a good idea to consider there are often numerous other factors that influence student success. Demographics, teacher, and parental support, along with student commitment, play a significant role in student outcomes. But, on the flip-side, there is plenty of evidence that indicates bullying and peer pressure significantly impact student performance, and this is why school selection is so crucial.

But, where do we go from here, in a somewhat malaligned COVID-19 world? Well, after a lot of thought, we decided a tree-change was well overdue, and with the change, so too did our circumstances. Moving into rural NSW, although very beneficial in many ways, was a backward step in the area of educational opportunity and personal growth. Once again, distance education is being considered, but is distance learning the answer?

Now I understand distance education might be something you have considered and discounted in the past, but regardless of any preconceived notions you may have, I urge you to read-on.

Distance education? Isn’t that by correspondence?

It’s probably just indicative of my age, but when I think of distance education a very different picture comes to mind, one devoid of the technological advances which students benefit from today. You see, it wasn’t that long ago (as recent as the late 1980s) when distance education was solely for students in remote areas.

Imagine being a student during this time, in an isolated area of Australia and interacting with your teacher located in another state or territory via a two-way HF radio. Student lessons, feedback, and assignments were completed via correspondence with the added complexity and delay of postage. Thankfully, the internet changed all of that, and today; students are privy to technology and opportunities we could only have dreamed of when we were younger.

The barrier between distance education and online schooling disappears.

Modern-day technology has provided students with the opportunity to engage and learn online, with the freedom to complete their lessons at a time and place commensurate with their needs. For those of us, who received a more traditional education, it might be harder to grasp the need behind providing students with a choice of how and when they study. So, here are some of the reasons why students and parents prefer online education;

  • the flexibility of online study
  • safe learning environment
  • self-paced learning
  • to pursue sporting or performing arts interests
  • the quality of education, resources and teacher support
  • family-centered learning experience
  • quality education for students in rural or remote areas
  • students with disabilities, illnesses or behavioral issues can have online learning adapted to suit their learning needs
  • religious reasons.

The advantage of online learning is no longer just for demographically challenged students living in rural or remote areas. Online schooling provides flexibility, safety, and provides students with the ability to pursue extracurricular interests has become a primary motivator for many students and parents.

What makes distance learning different from homeschooling?

There are several differences between homeschooling and distance learning, however, probably one of the more notable differences are;

  • With homeschooling, parents are responsible for ensuring the child follows and completes all aspects of the school curriculum,
  • With distance education, the responsibility for the child’s education falls on the education provider; the curriculum is taught by qualified teachers.

Questions parents and students ask about online education.

It’s understandable for your child to experience some anxiety when switching schools, much of which is attributable to fear of the unknown. Of course, finding out pertinent details surrounding your move will do much in alleviating any stress, asking questions is the key. Some questions you’re likely to want answers for will be;

  • If my child prefers to study in the early morning or evenings, will they miss contact with other children or teachers essential to their education and personal growth?
  • How are my child’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and social development needs balanced with online education?
  • Are there certain personality traits that help the child more easily focus their attention on online learning?
  • Do teachers keep regular contact with students to ensure they are keeping up with their studies and doing all which is required?
  • My child has special needs such as an illness or disability, which makes regular schooling challenging, can online school cater to the needs of my child?
  • Will online schooling disadvantage my child’s education in any way or hinder their path to university entrance?
  • What if my child wanted to switch to a regular school in the future, will the change be relatively seamless?

Depending on your child’s goals, family circumstances, needs, and beliefs, there is no one solution right for everyone. Carefully, consider your reasons or motivations for wanting to start online school to determine whether or not the online school is right for you.

Ways students attending online schools benefit every day

The benefits enjoyed by one family may differ when compared to others, just how much your child gains will depend greatly on their goals and motivation. In the majority cases, however, students and their families experience;

  • A safer, more productive learning environment
  • A better-structured learning process
  • A more flexible study routine
  • Flexibility to pursue sporting, performing arts or other interests
  • More time available to spend with family members
  • No transport costs or wasted time traveling to and from school
  • Flexibility to take on a part-time job

What I find appealing about online schools, is the risk is low, you’re not forking out huge sums onboarding and buying uniforms. So if Online School is not for your child, they can simply return to regular schooling with minimal financial outlay.

How much does online school cost?

Online schools do not disappoint when it comes to price. Look for the online school which fits your child’s needs and family lifestyle. Private online schools often have higher fees attributable to the higher level of service provided. Costs may also vary on your child’s grade, family circumstance, and location; however, as a guide, annual fees can be lower than two thousand dollars annually.

What technology is required to participate in online classes?

Although the type, size, and cost of equipment may vary, the basic requirements across the majority of schools, are;

  • Laptop (less than five years old)
  • High-speed internet connection

It helps considerably if your child is familiar with cloud-based software and completing tasks or assignments online; however, for those without skills, assistance is always given.

How will my child develop social skills online?

A concern many parents raise is, will my children suffer isolation, anxiety or depression without regular contact with other children? This concern or fear is understandable. In truth, the answer and solution differ for every family, but many students find friendships through the interests they pursue. These friendships benefit children immensely as students find they can better relate to children who share their interests.

Online schools with Christian values?

Online schools that teach students Christian value? Yes, they do exist. Christian schools blend the benefits of student flexibility, adherence to the curriculum while promoting the value of love and understanding amongst all students. Students can develop friendships in a safe, monitored online environment with other students.

While you may expect to pay more for a Christian School, you may be surprised to find fees are very affordable.

As far as online schools are concerned, one particular school which caught my eye some time ago is the Australian Christian College. ACC currently has nine schools across five states, including Hobart and Launceston, plus a well-established online school presence supported in three States; Queensland, NSW, and WA.

ACC is the only non-government school registered for distance education in NSW, located in Marsden Park it offers a choice between on-campus or online education.

Last thoughts

Whatever the reason you and your child are interested in pursuing online education, the deciding question which should be foremost in the minds of every student or parent; is distance education right for my child or me? Your child’s motivation and commitment to pursuing an online education will greatly influence their experience; an experience they will remember and cherish for many years ahead.