Remote learning ‘no substitute for dedicated staff’

Children using a computer.
Children using a computer.

Heralded as a mark of modern education, online learning is now an increasing necessity for schools, says a committee report.

The education committee of Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar says e-learning is becoming an “increasing necessity” in meeting learners’ needs
This is especially so in rural settings, says the council, which earmarks e-learning as a mechanism for greater access to teaching.

The report cites the example of a sixth form pupil at Sir E Scott School who has been able to study Higher Economics using an online system hooked up to Charleston Academy in the Highlands.

At Castlebay Community School remote teaching via e-learning is used in the absence of a dedicated maths teacher. That is a situation which could be repeated elsewhere, says its parents’ council chair, Chris Denehy.

Mr Denehy told the Gazette he understands the council’s education committee is intent on extending e-learning across the islands. It is not known how much e-learning might then be used to provide remote learning when teacher numbers are low.

A reliance on connecting to remote teachers will have an impact on resources in other schools too, said Mr Denehy.

“It will have a knock on affect on schools when a teacher has to be scheduled from elsewhere,’’ he said.

“Parents fear that this type of e-learning use becomes commonplace. The feedback we have got from pupils and staff is that this system is fine for extra tuition… but not for a whole classroom. I cannot see it working in most classrooms.

“Parents would hold up their hands in horror if e-learning meant the end of mathematics teaching at Castlebay.

“But if teachers aren’t available, we might rather have e-learning than the relocation of pupils, although that is a difficult question. We’ll have to see what happens.”

Director of Education, Bernard Chisholm, is on a mission to discuss with islanders the idea that e-learning in schools is not merely a solution to a problem, but a positive sign of a digitally-emergent age.

Addressing the extent to which online learning might play a role when teachers are absent, Mr Chisholm believed there were sound provisions in place.

“We can cover for most cases of absence,” he said, and confirmed the council was committed to ‘‘keeping as many schools as possible.’’

“The technology is not a video conferencing system but something that can enable pupils to study subjects that are not available in their own schools.”

Mr Chisholm said online learning provided students with access to subjects they could not have studied before the advent of the internet.

He concluded: “Today the blackboard is a window to the world. Our pupils could talk to astronauts on the space station, chat with pupils in Russia in their own language, and discuss politics with kids in Syria.”

What do you think of elearning in rural schools. Have your children had a positive experience?

Is it a step in the right direction? Send us your views at: news@stornowaygazette.co.uk