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Online from the onset

| June 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

Toddlers in many parts of the world can now attend virtual preschool. VINCI Education, based in Ottawa, Canada; North Andover, Massachusetts in the United States; and Hong Kong in Asia, is open for business, ready to provide the very youngest of learners and their parents with digital materials, activity guides, learning analytics and homeroom teachers via computer, tablet or smartphone.

Parents can choose from a wide variety of differently priced packages comprising books, songs, games and activity guides that arrive electronically every week. The most costly packages (around US$645 annually) also include regular online conferences with early education specialists to discuss each child’s progress.

Responding to critics who have labelled the online preschool as a “money-making racket” and the latest in an ongoing wave of initiatives aimed at making very young children compete at unhealthy levels, founder Dan Yang said VINCI was an option for parents who want to make sure their children are “kindergarten ready”.

The online offering is an extension of the robust international chain of brick-and-mortar early childhood development VINCI centres in North America and China. VINCI is based on a Montessori approach, says Yang, which encourages a child’s natural inclination to learn through exploration and experiential play.

“It’s not really about making a maths genius at two years old, but to show parents what sequential learning can look like,” opines Yang. “The purpose is to provide parents with guidance on how to interact with their children.”

VINCI has also come under fire for providing what some call “shoddy quality”. And while the system allows for parents to upload photos, videos and online reports, it’s not clear, say childcare experts, exactly how families would be able to interact with experts on the intense level required to monitor early learning progress.

A new study conducted by the National Education Policy Centre (NEPC) in the US, titled Virtual Schools in the US 2015: Politics, Performance, Policy and Research Evidence, concludes that while they continue to mushroom, full-time virtual education establishments are not getting good results. Few meet the criteria for national academic acceptability, the on-time graduation rate for online students is barely half the national average, the studentto- teacher ratio in virtual learning environments is more than double that of the nation’s public schools, online teachers are undercertified and poorly monitored and cyber school accountability is not enforced.

“The rapid expansion of virtual schools [in the US] is remarkable given the consistently negative findings regarding student and school performance,” the report concludes. “New opportunities are being defined and developed largely by forprofit entities accountable to stockholders rather than to any public constituency.”

Category: Winter 2015

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