Computers and the Internet transform education

Unlike traditional schools, Frederick’s students work at vastly different levels in the same classroom. Children with special needs rub shoulders with high performers. Computers track a range of aptitude levels, allowing teachers to tailor their teaching to their students’ weakest areas.

The Internet is also a catalyst for change. U.S. enrollment in online virtual classes reached the 1 million mark last year, 22 times the level seen in 2000, according to the North American Council for Online Learning, an industry body.

That’s only the beginning, said Michael Horn, co-author of “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns“.

“Our projections show that 50 percent of high school courses will be taught online by 2013. It’s about one percent right now,” said Horn, executive director of education at Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Massachusetts.

K12 Inc, which provides online curriculum and educational services in 17 U.S. states, has seen student enrollment rise 57 percent from last year to 41,000 full-time students, said its chief executive, Ron Packard. “We’re getting the kids who the local school is not working for. And the spectrum goes from extreme special education to extremely gifted kids,” he said.

Online tutoring is also expanding rapidly. Bangalore-based TutorVista, which launched online U.S. services in 2005, estimates its average global growth in active students at 22 percent a month — all taught by “e-tutors” mostly in India.

Horn expects demand for teachers to fall and virtual schools to boost achievement in a U.S. education system where only two-thirds of teenagers graduate from high school — a proportion that slides to 50 percent for black Americans and Hispanics, according to government statistics.

“You deliver education at lower cost, but you will actually improve the amount of time that a teacher can spend with each student because they are no longer delivering one-size-fits-all lesson plans,” he said. “They can actually roam around.”

Source: Reuters; excerpts edited by TFW