As schools around the world moved their classrooms online this spring due to the coronavirus outbreak, virtual education has become not only a necessary but viable learning option.
Here in the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Education is currently working out a distance-learning amendment for both educators and students should a second-wave take place. Education Minister Robert Plaga has suggested that the new school year could start on a schedule of alternating days, but nothing has been confirmed.
A handful of online options have recently emerged which offer expat parents conflicted between Czech schools and pricy international education — as well as nervous about the ongoing pandemic conditions — an interesting new alternative.
We spoke with the founders of two online schools based in the Czech Republic who say interest in virtual learning is on the rise:
How coronavirus changed education in the Czech Republic
In the Czech Republic, online education is still a fairly new concept but up until the pandemic hit it wasn’t a very popular choice. In Prague, one pioneer in online education has been Hill Castle International School, which offers an international curriculum for grades KG through Grade 12 – all entirely online.
“A couple of weeks into quarantine, families began to contact us in search of experienced, professional online instruction,” says Brandon B. Moseley, Co-Founder and Director Of Business Development for Hill Castle International School.
Since then, the school has received a high number of applications from students and families that are choosing to stay online for the next academic year.
In fact, Moseley says that their applications for September 2020 are up by just over 250%, the majority being students in grades 5-9. “Some families have enjoyed the freedom of studying online, others are choosing to stay online due to personal safety concerns,” Moseley adds.
Online education is here to stay
Even though it has taken time for online education to reach Europe, Moseley believes it’s finally here to stay. “After over 20 years in North America, the option of studying online and receiving a complete education is now recognized as being a viable alternative to traditional schooling,” he says.
For some schools, the switch to online teaching hasn’t been that drastic. The American Academy in Prague was already using Google Classroom for all of their classes before Covid-19, so when they were forced to move to an online platform, it wasn’t too difficult.
“We added Zoom and Loom videos and so we were up and running our online school the very next day after quarantine,” says Head of the American Academy in Prague, Yvonne Crawford.
When the new school year comes around in the fall and school goes back to face-to-face teaching, the American Academy in Prague will also have a completely online option for students –something that wasn’t available before. “I think the situation helped us to explore new educational options and opportunities,” Crawford says.
Benefits for expat parents
For years, expat parents have had only two options: either enroll their children in a Czech school (and deal with the language and culture barriers) or pay very high fees for an international school.
The pandemic has brought parents a new option: more affordable English-speaking schools completely online. “Our online program is great for really anyone who wants to choose their own subjects, who wants to choose their own hours that they work on school, and who wants to start studying any time within the school year,” says Crawford.
Online schooling also makes high-quality education available to families that live outside major urban areas, ensures continuity to students in transition between countries, and brings security to children who have suffered from bullying or require special needs support, according to Moseley. And perhaps more importantly, top-performing students are able to work ahead without waiting for their classmates and can instead graduate early or complete university-level courses while still in high school.
“Thankfully, our staff is very familiar with helping students and parents transition into online learning,” says Moseley. “We expect this year to be even easier as parents already have an idea of what the experience will be like.”
Online education is not without challenges
One difficulty with online education is the lack of social interaction. “This is why our counselor and teachers are always encouraging students to develop friendships within their live lessons and other interactive situations as well as advising parents on selecting extracurricular activities that allow the development of interpersonal skills,” says Moseley.
Many kids attending online schools, however, already have very active social lives outside the classroom.
For example, Crawford says many of their online students are involved in sports and other activities in their hometowns and favor online learning so they don’t have to give up those extra-curricular activities they enjoy.
“Our online students will also get to participate in our signature theme weeks, which allows them to work on a special guided project three times during the year,” says Crawford. This is another chance for students to interact with other children.
Online schools are cost-effective
International schools in Prague are known for being significantly expensive and, unfortunately, out of the reach of many expats.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected advantages of the surge in online schooling is that prices are a lot more affordable.
“But our online school is a specially good option because it is very affordable while still helping children to work towards their educational goals,” Crawford says.
Moseley adds that this year, the school has expanded its teaching staff with the expectation of more families choosing to remain online.
“This is due to their newfound familiarity with online education, ongoing safety concerns, and the affordability of online schooling compared to traditional international schools,” Moseley explains. “
Financial considerations have been a major factor for families choosing to remain in international school but switching to the online option.”
Join the discussion: How has the pandemic changed your attitude toward online learning?