The unforeseen upheaval in the world of education caused by the covid-19 pandemic brought out the resilience of the educational systems as they adapted to the virtual mode of imparting education. Blended learning, digital transformation, and connected classes not only made it feasible for learning to continue despite closure of schools, but also provided an opportunity to address numerous long-standing fallibilities and inequalities in the prevailing education system. This has also strengthened the focus of bringing every student back to learning.
Amongst the various initiatives in this direction, the concept of ‘virtual school’ was launched by the Indian government in August 2021. It will be implemented by NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling). Under this concept, the digital learning platform will include live virtual classrooms and labs. Examinations and assessments can be conducted online through remote proctoring, and even the results would be declared digitally. These digital schools will also offer certifications to students in order to enhance their employability and could even provide access to job portals and boards.
So, what is a ‘virtual school’? Also known as cyber school, it refers to educational programs in a virtual environment as opposed to those in a physical brick and mortar school. Teachers impart online education (recorded, pre-recorded, or live) to students who are at their homes, using computers and internet. All the academic and non-academic activities of the school are conducted on digital platforms. It is a new model of learning where technology, innovation, and digital tools are leveraged to increase inclusivity in education. It comes as a boon to the millions of children in our country who are outside the school system, unable to attend school physically, to complete their studies.
The staff and management of a complete virtual school also work remotely from their preferred locations. These schools are recognized by the respective boards of their districts, states, or country. Curriculum is well-organised and structured, and students are offered part-time as well as full-time courses.
In India, the K8 School is the first recognised online school, accredited by Cognia, an international education board. It admits students from kindergarten to class 8, and also offers a free demo class.
Most important characteristics of a Virtual School are:
Real-Time Operation– Virtual Schools operate on real time wherein all students log in at the same time for their learning activities with their teachers.
Two-way Learning Process – As opposed to e-learning, which is a one-way learning, virtual schools provide a two-way learning process as the classes are interactive.
Uses Simple Technology – Virtual classrooms can be created using internet/Wi-Fi connection and any smart device like smartphones and laptops/desktops.
Benefits of a Virtual School:
Remote Learning – It makes learning possible for students without requiring them to travel to schools. They can continue their schooling and learning from the comfort of their homes.
Two-Way Learning– Virtual schooling makes two-way communication feasible between the teachers and the students, making teaching-learning process interactive. This enhances the e-learning experience by taking it to another level.
Learning Flexibility – It provides flexibility to students, especially those of higher grades who are busy preparing for upcoming exams. In case they are involved in preparing for a particular subject, they have the option to skip/join a live class and benefit from the recorded session at another time. This flexibility is very helpful for students who are focused on other crucial career-building activities like athletics, sports, acting, and various forms of arts, by providing them the time to attend these classes elsewhere.
Working at Own Pace – Students who are fast learners or slow learners get the opportunity to work at their own pace, without having to match their speed with others.
Saves Travelling Time– This is one of the biggest advantages given the time spent on travelling back and forth from school in the congested city roads with traffic jams.
Affordable – Since certain expenditures like transport fee, infrastructure development fee, and other additional costs are not required, it results in less expenditure for all stakeholders including parents and school management alike.
Diversity in Education – Concept, communication, clarity, innovation, confidence, compassion, application, and effective teaching-learning strategies being the primary areas of focus in these schools leads to diversity in education.
Increased Parent-Involvement – As the students log in to virtual classrooms from their homes, virtual schooling increases the involvement of parents in the learning process of their children. This increased involvement helps them to understand their children better and overcome any challenges that arises on the learning journey.
However, as with every new advancement, there are always new issues that rise with it. The following are a few disadvantages of online or distance learning:
May Create a Feeling of Isolation – While some students have no difficulty learning independently, others may understand and learn better in a more social setting with their classmates and teachers physically present around them. Thus, virtual schools need to work harder to create a sense of community and engagement.
Increased Screen-Time – It is a well-known fact that more screen time leads to several ailments such as eyestrain, dry eyes, poor posture, or headaches. Besides this, an increased amount of screen-time also means easier access to virtual distractions such as social media, video games, and other entertainment.
Technical Issues– Internet connection issues is the leading cause of disruption in online learning. When this happens too often, students start to lose interest and the virtual class begins to feel like a waste of time. Initially, online learning also required the downloading of applications, and systems were not equipped to handle that. Fortunately, as technology advances and more platforms are developed, these problems become a smaller issue.
Additional Training for Instructors– The shift from offline to online classes was messy, largely due to the inexperience of the teachers and students with online learning platforms. Thus, additional training for the instructors is needed, adding on to the already existing teacher training workshops that are conducted by schools, causing higher expenses.
The three most important factors of accessibility, affordability, and quality, provided by virtual schools constitute the foundation on which the future of Indian education depends. With the help of these schools, the educational system of the country is progressing steadily to realise the dream of Digital India. Parents from smaller towns feel that online schools are a better option for their children, as it allows them to learn under better qualified and trained teachers, who are not always available in these towns. Many online schools also have several international Indian students as their parents say that it would be easier for them to adjust to the Indian curriculum once they return. The improvements in communication technology are addressing the concerns being brought up about virtual schools, and the advantages are proving to be more than the disadvantages.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.