Virtual Schooling

The System Needs First Aid

Today we’ve seen the Victorian government announce that it will provide $20m for all Year 9 students to undertake compulsory first aid training. This is no doubt going to be valuable for those young people. However this announcement out of the blue is, from at least one perspective, very disappointing because it highlights the gap between policy and the needs of schools.

The government faces a significant issue in meeting the need of rural schools, as the Auditor General pointed out earlier this year. Recent research also highlights the problems faced by schools in providing students with curriculum choice within the VCE. Five years ago, motivated by this concern and by knowledge that our school could do something to help, we set out to improve VCE provision for Victorian schools. Our school is Australia’s largest prover of senior school curriculum; we didn’t need this but other schools did. And we had a vision and expertise to help others.

We set out to create a series of high quality online courses supported by an online teacher and to make these available to students in all schools. It’s a modern version of the traditional distance education model. We pitched the idea to the minister of the time and to the department, who saw the potential immediately. Funding was initially sourced from outside the department before an ‘underspend’ within the department was found to subsidise the second year of operation. Subsequent funding has come from the commonwealth and from a Victorian government fund to promote the use of broadband. And our school has contributed a significant amount of its own funding for the benefit of students in other schools.

The results have been spectacular.  Around 60 schools have engaged with the Victorian Virtual Learning Network and this year over 260 students will study through through the project. It has saved schools hundreds of thousands of dollars and allowed students to access subjects their schools couldn’t provide them with because of low student numbers or teacher shortages. Student results are consistent with expectations while feedback from schools and students has been outstanding. The VVLN won the Victorian 2013 Curriculum Innovation Award and has been recognised internationally for the quality of its digital content and instructional design. It has been showcased to federal and state ministers, education bureaucrats, academics and education authorities. In 2013 an education department evaluation validated the strengths of the model.

The intention of the project has always been to help other schools and to create a model that the education department could adopt. So it would seem a logical next step for the government to provide some level of funding to support the continuation and growth of the model, particularly when 55 school principals recently asked the minister to support the VVLN. But this is a time when the government wants schools to be autonomous and is disinclined towards system solutions, preferring instead to concentrate on building the capacity of individual schools.

Part of the reason the department cites for this lack of support is the lack of funding for new initiatives. So when an announcement of $20m comes out of the blue for a worthwhile idea, but one that schools have not been requesting, it’s a little hard to understand, until you come to terms with the changed focus of the government and of the department. From a political perspective at least the Nationals, with their claims to represent the interests of rural and regional Victoria, should be champing the model and supporting rural schools.

For the sake of a few hundred thousand dollars a year the VVLN project will collapse in 2015. Schools will be disappointed, student subject choice will be diminished, the intellectual property developed over the last five years will dissipate and the government will have come no closer to addressing the issue of VCE curriculum breadth identified so clearly by the Auditor General and recent research. What a shame. At critical times schools need first aid too.

Categories: Virtual Schooling

Tagged as: , , ,