Lockdown gave Ralph Wesseling and his daughter Nadine a perfect opportunity to assess two forms of online schooling – traditional schools forced by Covid-19 to take teaching online versus specialist online teaching.
There was, says Wesseling, no comparison. That's why Nadine, 13, has ended up becoming a part-time student at Crimson Global Academy (CGA), a groundbreaking high school which has deliberately based its entire operations online. Among their pupils are "accelerated" students who want to benefit from the small live classes and study ahead of their year group.
"Lockdown did us a bit of a favour," says Wesseling. "It gave Nadine the chance to experience what happened during lockdown and then how CGA approached online learning as opposed to the practices patched together by traditional schools.
"They were worlds apart. The traditional schoolteachers tended to conduct lessons in the regular classroom-style, using Zoom to interact with 30 kids. It just didn't translate in the online environment and got bogged down.
"At CGA, however, classes are often 4-5 kids or 8-10 at the most. Interaction and discussion and involvement are huge. There is no place to hide in those circumstances – it's not like you can opt to sit at the back or hide behind someone else."
Nadine's story is typical of an accelerated student – a high achiever at primary, intermediate and high school where the Year 9 student was involved in extension classes. But, her father says, she began outpacing the tuition in extension classes, often ending up "teaching herself" with little teacher involvement.
After attending a CGA Open Day and talking to executive principal John Morris, the former headmaster of Auckland Grammar and Takapuna Grammar, Nadine – also a musician, singer and volleyball player, enrolled at CGA to take maths and history classes part-time, after regular schooling finishes.
She takes International GCSE courses, the academic equivalent of a Year 11 level, with classes three times per week for each subject in the evenings, a total of about six hours a week.
"There's no doubt you need the ability to manage your time," says Wesseling. "Nadine is pretty busy and she has to be organised for those six hours a week – though CGA has good time slots which help at lot, at 4-5pm and 7-8pm."
Online school sceptics often quote physical interaction and social growth as issues with online learning. However, Wesseling says: "The one thing that has surprised me has been the interaction between the [CGA] students. It's been far greater than I thought. I think it's because they are like-minded people who want to make the best use of their brains."
The style of teaching is also different. In traditional schools, Wesseling says, teachers typically impart new knowledge to the students, set homework and/or give them tasks to help them think about the subject.
"CGA, however, kind of flip the learning system on its head," says Wesseling. "They might be talking about a chapter in a book, for example – so, when they go online, everyone is expected to have read it, they discuss and interact on it and the teacher has real insight into what more needs to be done."
Like many of CGA's students, Nadine is thinking about the possibility of overseas education –potentially at "Oxbridge", the collective noun for Oxford and Cambridge Universities – through CGA's parallel university application support company, Crimson Education.
She is also thinking about – but has not yet decided – going full-time at CGA from Year 11.
"We don't know whether Oxbridge will happen or not," says Wesseling, himself a director of Numberworks'nWords, an academic tuition service, owned by Crimson Group, that works with students studying maths and English and caters for students who have fallen behind and are catching up, as well as accelerated students bursting to get ahead.
"It's a romantic notion at the moment – but we certainly know she is benefitting from the steps she is taking now. She'll tell you – the lessons are full on, it's very intense, challenging and rewarding."
Accelerated students make up 44 per cent of CGA's roll, about 70 per cent of the students are part-time; the rest are full-time Year 10-12 students on a three-year programme. Those part-time are students who want to broaden their curriculum and take subjects not traditionally offered by schools, like computer science and psychology.
Crimson Global Academy is armed with bespoke technology developed by founder and former Kings College student Jamie Beaton. The school began life as a tutoring business before Beaton saw the potential for a global online high school offering advanced qualifications and teaching.
CGA started small, launching in April with just 15 New Zealand students, it now has a roll of 122, with about 80 based in New Zealand and others from Australia, Singapore, the UAE, Russia, Europe, the UK and more.
To find out more visit www.crimsonglobalacademy.school/nz/