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    When online courses are done right, teachers excel, students thrive, and parents smile.

The future of education

Virtual learning may be the solution to many challenges

BY Oran P. Smith
Special to the Chronicle
This month we reach the 35th anniversary of the premiere of the original “Back to the Future.”

The blockbuster movie’s plot perfectly illustrates our deep-seated desire to know what lies ahead.

That innate instinct can serve us well if we embrace the insight we have been given (like Ebenezer Scrooge or George Bailey) rather than squander it (like the more notorious time travelers Biff and Dr. Evil).
Thankfully, when it comes to the education of our children, a time machine isn’t necessary. Due to covid-19, we are living the future of education in the present.
The message, if we have the courage to hear and act on it: the future of school will have a permanent online component. Given that fact, South Carolina can either fully embrace a robust online learning future or tinker around the edges and get left behind. 

Consider these opportunities:
Virtual done well. When online courses are done right, teachers excel, students thrive, and parents smile. A recent USA Today survey revealed that 59% of parents say they will pursue some form of in-home learning if in-person school resumes in the fall. A surprising 30% said they would be very likely to homeschool or have their children learn online. 
Wifi has no corridors. Properly constituted, the age-old question of how to attract great teachers to poor communities goes away with a few key strokes. 
This unforeseen massive shift to online has made reaching the Corridor of Shame with digital instruction practically feasible for the 1st time. Students have varied interests. Teachers have varied methods. A wide variety of high-quality courses taught in a wide variety of ways should be available to every student, no matter where they live. 

We know it can be done. Louisiana leads the way with 5,553 course sections offered through its Supplemental Course Academy.
 Alabama allows school districts to set up online teaching portals and market their courses to families all over the state. 
Why couldn’t our school districts with robust online components do the same? 
We are home to BMW, Boeing and Michelin. ‘Work for a Fortune 300 company’ online or in person could be a course. 
Our state universities and technical colleges could join the mix, offering many more dual credit courses online. South Carolina Teachers of the Year could have their courses beamed to students statewide.  

Some providers of online courses receive half of course fees up front and are paid the rest when the student passes the course.
When the General Assembly returns in the fall to craft a 2020-2021 state budget, it should fund a pilot project to determine how South Carolina schools, colleges, businesses, industries and providers can work together to build the most robust online learning catalog in America. 

   

Dr. Oran Smith is a South Carolina native and Senior Fellow at Palmetto Promise Institute. To read more of his work, visit www.palmettopromise.org.

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