The "future of education" is how a New Zealand-based high school, with 122 students enrolled from 18 countries, is describing its completely online model.
Crimson Global Academy (CGA), which took two years to build online, opened its virtual doors on April 28, in the midst the disrupted learning and intensive lockdown measures that came with Covid-19.
But executive principal John Morris, the former headmaster of Auckland Grammar and Takapuna Grammar, says Covid-19 has accelerated change and interest in CGA.
CGA deliberately based its entire operations online and also aims to cater for "accelerated" students – ambitious pupils who want to benefit from the small live classes and study ahead of their year group; they 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.
The school is armed with bespoke technology developed by Crimson 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.
"I appointed John Morris as an executive headmaster because he's unquestionably New Zealand's best headmaster of the last several decades," says Beaton. The school also has Sir John Key as an advisor and has brought in two former Uber executives to drive growth and innovation, with AJ Tills joining as Chief Marketing Officer and Ed Baker (former vice president of growth for Uber) as an advisor. Morris says CGA is building a team that will make it a school like no other.
Students can learn with two international curricula recognised by the world's most competitive universities – the international GCSE and A-level qualifications and Advanced Placements in a variety of subjects taught online in real time by teacher who are specialists in their subject areas.
They are based in New Zealand and overseas and Morris describes their abilities as "excellent". The top teaching talent has come from over 800 applications from leading international high schools.
Although CGA started small, with just 15 New Zealand students, it now has a roll of 122, with about 80 based in New Zealand and others from Singapore, the UAE, Russia, Europe, the UK and more.
"The students signing up with us are kids who want to do well," says Morris. "They might be doing NCEA at their bricks-and-mortar school but they know that might not be enough to gain them entry to universities like Yale and Harvard. So they are seeking to show their ability by gaining an internationally recognised and respected academic qualification.
"Some are with us because their school wouldn't allow them to accelerate beyond their age group; others are pursuing a career in music, drama or sport academies – but know that career may not always sustain them, so they will need academic qualifications as well."
Morris says CGA's technology allows full interaction with teachers in synchronous, real-time, live teaching – something he sees as vital. So are the extra-curricular and socialisation activities CGA offers students.
Research shows, he says, that online schools which are a "resource repository" of pre-recorded videos, without interaction between teachers and students, have up to a 90 per cent dropout rate: "There is simply no motivation. All the research done by the OECD and UNESCO and others shows that the online schools that succeed are the ones with real-time, live teachers."
Morris' opinion is that a "blended" system of bricks-and-mortar and online schooling will emerge post-Covid: "I think [physical] schools will always have a place; most do a very good job. But what CGA is offering – and I think the future of education – is a choice for parents and students, particularly for those kids who really want to learn."
The time and environment is completely right for a school like CGA, he says, as today's students are from Generation Z – the first to grow up in a truly globalised and internet world and who don't see online learning as a departure from the norm, but a wholly logical development.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has also illustrated starkly how globally interconnected we are; there is no longer such a thing as isolated issues and actions.
"Internationalism and globalism have, for example, produced an international marketplace which surmounts national borders – and the same lack of borders is now appearing in education. The spread of transnational schooling is a new and growing trend.
"It is no longer good enough for students to compare their performances only against those of other students in the same city or country," Morris says.
"Future CGA school leavers will find themselves in an international workplace or an international tertiary institution, and in competition with people from other countries. Their credentials on leaving school must have international currency.
"Around the world, leading schools like Harrow and Wellington College (UK) are global and have built links with overseas providers of learning," he says. "Great schools are clearly becoming increasingly networked through a rich variety of alliances and interactions.
"Being part of a global network of schools is a vital part of the CGA future, one in which CGA students have an opportunity to become global citizens through an education and a curriculum that is self-consciously international."
To find out more visit www.crimsonglobalacademy.school/nz/