Lessons From Abroad

Online learning growing around the world, but stumbling blocks remain

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A report released on November 10th by iNacol, or The International Association for K-12 Online Learning, provides details on how countries across the world are increasing their experimentation with and reliance on online education. “Online and Blended Learning: A Survey of Policy and Practice of K-12 Schools Around the World” investigates how 50 countries use online learning, and concludes that although the practice is growing, many challenges remain.

About two-thirds of those countries surveyed are doing some sort of online or blended learning. The picture varies greatly from place to place, however, with countries such as Australia already equipped with a national online school while places like Uganda and Russia are still focused on building up infrastructure to improve access for all students.

The report identifies common trends—students in urban areas or with special circumstances, like illnesses, are more likely to be enrolled in online classes—but also focuses on many of the problems and obstacles that still remain in online education globally.

Access is one of the biggest hurdles to the expansion of online education, the report’s authors found. “In some places access is really at a level that it’s something you can’t easily fix,” said co-author Regina Brown at this year’s annual Virtual School Symposium, held in Indianapolis. In Mozambique, for instance, only one percent of people have Internet access, she said.

Surveys from the 50 countries also revealed that online education is not typically a funding priority—especially in those nations facing significant national debt—and in many places, policymakers don’t know that much about the practice. Some countries, including Brazil, even have laws restricting or outlawing online learning.

“Pockets of things are happening in different countries,” Brown said. “But a lot of that sporadic interest is being carried on by private companies [rather] than public entities.”

Specialized training for online teaching positions is available and encouraged in many places but it’s rarely mandatory. Just 11 percent of those countries surveyed license or credential their online teachers. While 72 percent of countries report having some sort of additional training available for online teachers, just a quarter actually require it.

Only five countries—Australia, China, Egypt, France and Nigeria—have established online teaching standards for K-12 education.

But the problems extend well beyond that, according to co-author Trina Trimm. “We tell teachers you’re going to implement x, y, z … but we don’t buy them their own laptop,” she said at the Virtual Schools Symposium. “Where’s the technology for the teacher? Where are those key essential tools?”

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Sarah Butrymowicz

Sarah Butrymowicz is senior editor for investigations. For her first four years at The Hechinger Report, she was a staff writer, covering k-12 education, traveling… See Archive

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