Abbotts College, Advice Column, Education, Evolve, Online Education

Online schools: The warning signs to look out for

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Parents need to ensure that they get a solid understanding of what is required from a high quality

We have also seen an explosion of new online “schools”, where in many instances, previous non-entities in education miraculously became overnight experts in matters of learning pedagogy, curriculum, and child development. 

The recent pandemic, and more specifically the hard lockdown, forced many parents to consider homeschooling their children via online schooling platforms. We have also seen an explosion of new online “schools”, where in many instances, previous non-entities in education miraculously became overnight experts in matters of learning pedagogy, curriculum, and child development.

As a previous school Principal and now Managing Director of a group of schools, I have watched this process – of education evolution on the one end and shameless opportunism on the other – unfold with much interest. There is a sense of excitement at the possibilities inherent in intelligent online school design, but an equal feeling of dread seeing the irresponsible opportunism that too many unsuspecting parents and children are subject to in this space.

As we come out of the pandemic and children return to brick-and-mortar schools, many of our principals have reported that the damage done by some of the more unscrupulous online schools are evident. Children had fallen behind, were given inflated marks that do not reflect their actual ability, or both. In most instances, the children are from online schools that have become well-known during the past two years, not because of reputation, but because of their marketing efforts. These schools make bold claims about liberating education or being a real school in your home, but the evidence point to the contrary with disappointed and disillusioned children who have been let down by opportunists.

From my experience in brick-and-mortar education, as well as overseeing a homeschooling offering as part of our group of school brands, I would like to encourage parents to look for the following two salient red flags when considering online homeschooling.


What many schools, including the brands I work with, did during the hard lockdown, was to switch to an online timetable that emulated the same daily learning routine that the children would have had at a traditional school. This was an acceptable short-term solution given the context of a hard lockdown. However, to take that concept and now continue to promote this as a real school at home is irresponsible and educationally unsound. The thought of hundreds of South African children placed in front of computer screens for six hours a day for the duration of their young lives, instead of proper holistic schooling, should be terrifying to any objective observer. Parents must never put their children through this for any other purpose than dealing with a temporary emergency.


As far as education goes, the only thing worse than a child sitting and watching lessons on a screen for six hours a day, would be if these lessons weren’t even live. Imagine a 14-year-old child, alone at home with nothing more for educational stimulation than organised recordings of school lessons! The service providers selling these products suggest that teenagers have the discipline to manage their own school days with the help of a mentor whose role it is to effectively curate learning content to the child. In reality, the children get deprived from any and all real time collaborative learning and are expected to equip themselves for adulthood from the isolated confines of their rooms. Again, this is an objectively wrong-headed approach.

Online homeschooling is possible and has many exciting prospects of improving family and community life. It also opens many exciting educational avenues of real individualised learning paths with all the complexity it implies. However, for this to be true, we as parents must first accept that children (of any age) cannot simply be placed in front of a screen for hours on end with the fantasy that they will gain the life experiences required to mould them into well-rounded adults.

If your online homeschool curriculum provider, therefore, does not offer:

  • an integrated, well balanced, and intelligent approach to screen time and green time,
  • a clear and evidenced-based methodology to enable individual learning paths,
  • and does not understand and address the integrated social needs of your child,

then I would strongly advise parents not to put your children through the torture of isolation and inappropriate learning pedagogy, regardless of how flashy it may be packaged. You have the right to expect more from this prevailing market, and the better offerings are indeed out there. 

To learn more from our teachers and educational experts, read one of our other blogs.

To find out more about Abbotts College and the work we do, visit the rest of our website.

To learn more about how Abbotts College can improve your child’s educational journey, read more about our non-traditional approach.

Feel free to call or email one of our campus administrators.

Chris van Niekerk, Managing Director: ADvTECH Niche Schools • Mar 22, 2022

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