Sharon Levy, Director of Learning Unlimited reflects on recent developments in online education.
It is a pleasure to announce some new Learning Unlimited (LU) initiatives such as an online student’s forum and, as always, to celebrate those LU students who distinguished themselves in the May/June 2022 Cambridge International exams. Before doing so though, I would like to make some remarks on the changing face of online education.
There is no question that people are now, as never before, exploring alternatives to the NSC motivated by growing awareness that the system is grossly inadequate by reputable international standards. Not surprisingly, the last two years has seen a mushrooming of online tuition services seeking to take advantage of what they perceive to be a growing market. The trend has also been accelerated by the fact that the Covid epidemic has made both working and studying from home more mainstream and acceptable than ever before.
However, before deciding on your child’s future, it would be well to think through some crucial problems and heed some cautions born of LU’s 17 years of experience—and proven track record—in helping students succeed in Cambridge International AS and A levels across a wide range of subjects in both the sciences and the humanities.
The first caution is this: AS and A levels are vastly more advanced academically than an NSC matric, not merely in the contents of the syllabuses of all the various subjects but also in the criteria by which students are assessed. Because of this universities in the EU and elsewhere have come to insist that prospective students who have only an NSC certificate do academic bridging programs lasting anywhere from 12-18 months to make them ready for first year university studies.
In addition, I have over the years seen many students who had been getting As and the occasional B switch to AS and A levels in Grade 11 and get a D in their initial Cambridge exams. In switching tracks one needs to be aware of just how great the discrepancies in standards are and that it is only with appropriate training that the deficits can be made good.
The moral of the story is clear: you need to be sure that you are dealing with teachers who are capable of dealing adequately with the much higher academic level required. They also need to be well-versed in the requirements of the Cambridge syllabuses they specifically teach.
I have witnessed time and again that it is extremely difficult for teachers or institutions who have only dealt with the NSC to meet the CAIE requirements. One of the reasons why the Cambridge curriculum is so much more demanding is that rote learning plays a much lesser role in it: the emphasis is on understanding rather than regurgitating, mastering skills well enough to be able to apply them to texts and problems you have not seen before, and under exam conditions at that.
As the above material makes clear, even highly intelligent children transitioning from the NSC to Cambridge International studies face adjustment problems. You really need to ask yourself what will happen if the teacher is experiencing transitional problems at the same time, problems which he/she might not be able to deal with adequately. It is therefore a fallacy to assume that NSC teachers or educational bodies can make a quick and successful transition to delivering the Cambridge curriculum.
I wish to stress that this applies every bit as much to the online schools/tuition companies that are mushrooming in an attempt to turn public disenchantment to their commercial advantage.
Before signing up, make a real effort to know what kind of track record they have. Are their staff experienced when it comes to teaching their Cambridge subjects or are both academic staff and organisation untried and untested in this curriculum? Administrative questions are well worth asking too. For instance, LU had mechanisms in place enabling our students to write their exams even during the Covid pandemic so that they did not have to lose months or years of their lives. Can the other providers you have in mind do the same?
Above all, do not merely look at price. This is another important piece of caution I wish to emphasise. Because LU’s teachers are so well-versed in what they do, we have a remarkable ability to offer accelerated and customised programs. Time and again our students have completed their studies in less than half the usual time and in some cases even a third of the customary time. By the time the bill is tallied, LU may well be no more expensive and even cheaper in the long run than tutoring centres who do not have the wherewithal to operate in this way.
For all these reasons, I also decided to write an article called ‘What to watch out for when choosing online tutoring for your child’ so as to alert parents to frequent pitfalls.