Students in New Zealand will now be able to enroll in accredited online classes instead of attending traditional schools due to new government legislation.
Any registered school, tertiary provider, or approved corporation will be able to apply to be a "community of online learning" (COOL). Any student of school age will then be able to enroll.
Different types of COOL may have different requirements for whether students will need to attend in-person for all or some of the school day — also called the blended learning model. Regulations are coming soon that will outline how attendance is an online learning environment will be measured.
This change was introduced by Education Minister Hekia Parata, who said it was the biggest update to the country's education policy in nearly 30 years. Nicholas Jones of the New Zealand Herald quoted Parata:
"This innovative way of delivering education offers a digital option to engage students, grow their digital fluency, and connect them even more to 21st-century opportunities.
"There will be a rigorous accreditation process alongside ongoing monitoring to ensure quality education is being provided."
A spokeswoman said that the only existing correspondence school Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu would become a COOL. About 23,000 students use Te Kura, and about half use it for opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have.
Parata said that it's impossible to know what other COOLs will look like until institutions and companies submit their proposals. However, the government has a rough idea based on the correspondence school model.
The primary school teachers' union is criticizing the move, saying that learning to work and play with other children is an integral part of education. NZEI President Louise Green said:
"Kids need to be in schools where they're in a community, learning from each other, growing in independence, developing all of the good skills that they need to be part of society."
Other critics say that high-quality teaching makes the biggest difference in a child's education.
Some, writes John Gerritsen of Radio New Zealand, think that the standards would cease to be rigorous, and worry that sub-par COOLs would be allowed to operate. They fear that it is a move that will benefit businesses more than children, reports Jo Moir of Stuff.
Different models are used in different countries. In the United States, there has been a particular rise in the number of online charter schools, which were introduced in New Zealand as partnership schools as part of National's agreement with the Act Party.
Labour MP Chris Hipkins believes that while the evidence of the efficacy of online charter schools is very mixed, but supports moving the correspondence school into the digital age.
According to NZME, there are other changes in progress that would affect how students are enrolled in school at age five. As it is now, they enroll on their fifth birthday, often leading to five-year-olds starting school partway through the school year. Under proposed legislation amending the Education Act, parents could enroll their children so they could start at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday.