From school through tertiary education, post-grad studies and work-based training, the South African digital learning environment is developing and expanding at a record rate. For families, online schools are offering a range of choices they have never had before.
While geography has been a traditional limitation when it comes to choosing a physical school for your child, online schools have no such boundaries. This frees parents to pay closer attention to the online school’s philosophy and values, model and offerings in order to find a school environment that is truly optimal for their child.
Families who have embraced online schooling commonly tout the flexibility that it affords as a major benefit. With all the content accessible any time and anywhere, learners can proceed at their own pace, enabling faster learners to forge ahead while those who need more engagement with particular content can take their time without being left behind. But many learners also need structure in order to progress, and this balance of flexibility and organized learning needs to be embedded in the online school model.
For Koa Academy, which has prioritized a high-level of engagement at its online school, this has resulted in them becoming South Africa’s first online Pod school, organizing their learners and teachers in 8-person Pods. Each school day they get together for Pod Connect, a session of socio-emotional learning, teamwork, and relationship-building.
There are also daily Pod Check-ins for setting targets, monitoring progress, presenting work and feedback, as well as subject-based Masterclasses. Koa’s unique Pod structure creates the organized space for learners to enjoy social connections, get targeted academic support and develop their executive functioning.
Mark Anderson, Koa’s Principal and Co-founder says, “It’s all about accountability and individualisation. We’ve seen several other online learning models crash and burn because they assume that kids, particularly teens, are able to learn without consistent accountability. The fact is that a large part of what school teaches a young person has to do with becoming more independent, and not just assuming that they already are independent. Our small Pods mean that everyone is accountable academically. The teacher knows every single person in their Pod, where they are in terms of their learning, and what support they need to keep growing. It’s in this highly supportive, highly accountable space in which learners can really master the skill of independence and thrive in their academics.”
Koa’s Pods also enable kids to benefit from regularly interacting with peers. The school also offers special interest clubs, holds Science, Business and Art Expos and hosts a wide array of presenters who give kids insights into the world of work.
Mark says, “There are many clear benefits of online learning but there’s also a real risk in the online space of disconnection, possibly leading to isolation. We knew that if Koa was to really become the standard of online education in South Africa, and truly harness all the benefits of online learning, then everyone must be connected – not just connected in the IT sense, but also feel connected in the social and emotional sense. The only way to do that is for our cameras to be on, and our voices to be heard. That happens best – that happens ONLY – in small groups. With 8 on a screen, everyone can be seen, and everyone can be heard.”
For Koa teachers, the Pod structure is a dream teaching environment where they can put their specialised training into practice in ways that educators just cannot do with a bigger group of learners. Pod teacher, Simone Dames says, “Every day I am connecting with my Pod for fun sessions targeting soft skills as well as academic sessions where I can monitor kids’ progress and assist or coach where needed. I can tell you who everyone is; I know their academic strengths and challenges. I can give each person an individualised timetable that leans into their strengths and allows them to master content at their own pace. It’s a super-accountable structure where kids can thrive both academically and socio-emotionally.”
The high engagement fostered by the Pods also has a positive spin-off when it comes to developing digital literacy, a 21st Century imperative.
Mark says, “Our kids are actively socialising online. The online space is already theirs! But they do need to be given a safe space and coached into how to socialise in a healthy way online. Our Pods create that safe space where young people can master the skills required to connect meaningfully and safely with others online. This is important real-world connection, and they are getting the necessary opportunities to develop confidence, adeptness and responsibility in engaging successfully in the digital world.”
For parents who have experienced their child being overlooked and getting swamped in a larger class, Koa’s small-group Pods make a lot of sense. Mark concludes, “For parents making the choice to enrol in online school, and who are evaluating the different offerings, I think it is important for them to think about it would take for their child to thrive in school. What comes to mind? Is it the chance for your child to be themselves? Is it better academic support? Is it more meaningful friendships? Less bullying? Better maths? Heck – there are parents in South Africa who just wish that their child’s teacher knew their name! Now imagine them in a Pod of 8.”
Discover Koa Academy here.