Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) has issued a submission to the government expressing concerns about the impact of the Education (Update) Amendment Bill for rural schools.
The Bill proposes some significant changes to the Act, including allowing for the accreditation of private online charter schools. Under this proposal, children as young as five years old will have the ability to elect to receive some or all of their education online.
“The risk of online charter schools diverting both students and much needed government funding away from rural schools is something we are concerned about,” says national president, Wendy McGowan. “Rural schools perform a vital role in their communities, yet many are struggling to cope with the unique challenges of providing education in isolated areas. The government’s first priority should be in further supporting these schools, rather than seeking out alternative providers, which could challenge their viability.”
RWNZ says that it doesn’t think that online schools are an acceptable substitute to traditional schools. “In general, we think most children benefit from being able to learn within a traditional school setting where they have the opportunity to socialise and interact with their peers. This is particularly true in rural communities where isolation is a major concern,” says Ms McGowan.
“A further limiting factor of online schools is their reliance on a decent level of internet connectivity, something that is lacking in many remote parts of the country.”
RWNZ’s submission also outlines concerns that taking children out of the school environment could increase their vulnerability to abuse, neglect in the home and missing out on important primary health interventions such as immunisations. Research from the United States showing that the academic performance of students at online charter schools is lagging behind those in traditional schools is also referenced.