Traditional and Online School Collaborations for Mutual Benefit
By joining forces, traditional and online schools can offer the best of both worlds through flexible subject offerings, cost saving and optimal productivity of teaching staff.
At first glance, there may not seem to be a natural fit between traditional brick-and-mortar independent schools and online ones. There are, however, many areas in which brickand- mortar and quality online schools can find common ground for mutual benefit.
The challenges for traditional independent schools
Over the last decade, the number of families that can afford independent education have decreased steadily. At the same time, the cost of education has significantly outpaced the consumer price index. This has resulted in a quiet struggle for numbers as many schools that previously had waiting lists and full classrooms find themselves with shrinking numbers and a more significant percentage of their parents defaulting on fees.
Another significant challenge is how to balance subject choices in grades 10 to 12. There is an inconsistency in the choices learners make from year-to-year, and a subject with excessive numbers in one year can find itself with little uptake in the next. This is particularly true in subjects with a limited uptake.
The second difficulty principals encounter is the limited number of teachers for in-demand subjects like Information Technology, First Additional Languages and Engineering Graphics and Design.
Good teachers in these subjects are difficult to find and challenging to retain, and principals must often go outside their normal salary ranges to achieve this. So, how does collaboration between an online school and a traditional independent school lead to mutual benefit?
Increasing the range of subject choice
Online schools can operate more efficiently by hiring a teacher to only teach a specific class. We also have lower overheads and fewer maintenance demands on our budget. This means we can offer a subject to a smaller group of students and have a lower barrier to economies of scale.
By partnering with an online school, brick-and-mortar schools can offer students access to a broader range of subjects and opportunities for advanced and specialised learning. This is especially beneficial for students who may need access to specific courses in their local area.
An online school can take in a few students from different schools and combine them into a single class. In this respect, they are not limited by the need for students to live in the geographic proximity.
Traditional independent schools can use this approach to avoid the loss of a student who wants to take a subject that is not offered at that school. They can also use it to increase their subject offering and become more competitive.
An elastic approach to subject offerings
Through collaboration with online schools, traditional independent schools can include and remove subject choices on demand without entering into long-term contracts with staff members. In effect, they will only pay for the time it takes to teach those children a specific subject, as well as their supervision if the lessons occur during the school day.
They can also enter an arrangement with the online school to share the costs of a full-time staff member by making some of their time available to the online school to use in its classes. This partnership has the added benefit of exposing teachers to new technologies and pedagogies.
Schools sometimes face the issue where a student is a high performer in a sporting or cultural activity. These students generally require a more flexible timetable and often resort to home schooling and tutoring as a solution. In these circumstances, parents are often concerned about the socialisation of their child as they have a minimal social circle, often based on competitors in their field.
Parents would often prefer their children to have a wider social circle and spend some time having a face-to-face school experience. Working with an online school means that a traditional school can offer those students the best of both worlds.
A traditional school in a remote location can open opportunities for income generation by offering older students who want to improve their matric results, or employed students, afternoon or evening programmes, both during the school day and after school when their buildings are usually empty.
The benefits of joining forces with an online school are obvious:
Increased enrolment and classes with optimal numbers.
Access to experienced teachers from across the country.
A wider subject selection.
Increased numbers allowing the school to improve its ability to benefit from scale.
This hybrid approach to education is in its infancy in South Africa, but holds a lot of promise for finding ways to improve the sustainability and flexibility of independent schools in South Africa.