News / South Africa / Education

Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
23 Nov 2021
3:48 pm

Is SA’s Victorian-era style education system failing our youth?

Renate Engelbrecht

As the world evolves, children need to be equipped for a new, digital future of work and many say that the current education system won’t suffice.

Picture: iStock

Jackie Cook, a senior teacher at some of South Africa’s top schools for the past 30 years before transitioning to delivering high-quality online education, says inclusive online education is the only way we can kickstart a more equal and educated society, and a more inclusive knowledge economy.

Out with the old, in with the new

Victorian-era style education is said to have been based on an expensive, inaccessible and exclusive business model. Schools are in particular locations (often prime real estate) with costly physical infrastructure to maintain and only those living close by and those who can afford it, can access it.

Cook says: “The world of work is changing fast, and our children can and must adapt with it to flourish. The current education system is based on the Victorian rote learning system, which was primarily developed for the era of industrialisation, which encouraged obedient thinkers who did what they were told. Children were placed in rows, told to sit still, and memorise a single, standardised curriculum of subjects that were appropriate at one time.

“But, the new world of work needs multifaceted problem solvers, critical and independent thinkers who find solutions and are not afraid to be wrong until they are right.”

In South Africa and around the world, there is a huge push towards contract- and project-based working models with a strong gig economy. Platforms enabling this type of economy and the so-called freelancing lifestyle will only get bigger in future, which means children need to be equipped for this new future of work.

This means that the teaching profession will need to evolve too, with teachers willing to evolve migrating to online teaching.

Cook says that in five years’ time, all of South Africa’s best teachers will work in online education, because online school is the mainstream school of the future.

“It’s a natural outcome in a time of great change.”

Online education
Online education seems to be the way of the future. Picture: iStock

Will my child adapt to online education?

Victorian-era education always had a one-size-fits-all approach, where online education is much more adaptable to children’s individual needs. Children need to be able to learn in the best way that suits them, which is why online learning could just be what your child needs.

According to Cook, good online schools can cater to the needs of all kinds of learners at the same time, in the same classroom and even if every child is differently abled.

“Gone are the days of separating children into A, B and C classes according to their perceived intelligence. All children are intelligent, one must just teach them how they like to learn.”

ALSO READ: Cyberbullying – What schools and parents should be doing

Benefits of online education

  • Children are able to manage any kind of sensory overload they may experience by switching cameras, screens or earphones on or off. They can even choose the level of engagement with their teacher and classmates according to their level of comfort, which makes it ideal for learners on the spectrum.
  • With online education, children don’t have to sit still and behave in a class of 30 learners. They can play with a fidget spinner or hop up and down on an exercise ball while in class without disturbing anyone if it helps them to concentrate.
  • Children who thrive by learning through music, discussion, lectures and other auditory learning aids will be happy to know that online learning offers this in various forms.
  • The same goes for children who are visual learners, learning best through pictures, movies, diagrams and other visual aids.
  • Many children like to move while learning and online education allows them to have a standing desk or a treadmill to learn from.
  • Even children who like learning through making lists, reading textbooks, taking notes and using productivity apps to stay organised will see the benefit in online education.
  • Children who have been challenged with the escalating problem of bullies in physical school settings thrive in online schools where there is zero-tolerance policies on cyberbullying (as far as it can be managed through the Learner Management System). They are taught about the importance of digital kindness and etiquette, while also learning the relevant coping skills for today’s world and that what goes online, stays online.
  • Learners who learn faster than others are able to work ahead and take on more complex tasks, while slower learners can revisit lessons and invest in their work as much as needed.

According to Cook, today’s children need a whole new skillset, that includes critical thinking and problem solving, computational thinking, design thinking, agility and flexibility, as well as emotional, social and cultural intelligence.

Therefore, the key to their success will be to have a growth mindset to become adaptive, creative and innovative professionals.

“For our children to thrive in a changing digital economy, they will need to be self-motivated, self-sufficient, digitally literate, socially responsible, kind, considerate and entrepreneurial,” says Cook.

“They also need to learn to socialise happily and practice many of their hobbies online.”