By Paul Glader, Managing Editor
BERLIN – Just when you thought the United States had a near monopoly with virtual schools, Europe shows it’s also on the map.
Nikolaos Zygouritsas, Director of the Lambrakis Foundation in Athens, recently researched virtual schools – institution that teaches courses entirely or primarily through distance online methods – in Europe. His research focused on 8 fascinating case studies from a school in Belgium for young people with chronic diseases to an online school in Portugal for children in families that work in traveling circuses. The EU has some interesting models.
Zygouritsas said, during a session at Online Educa Berlin last week, that he counts 70 virtual high schools in 18 different countries in Europe right now. Half are public and half are private. Most have around 500 students. Most have the goal of social inclusion for students who were somehow outside the bounds of traditional schools. They represent a “Broad pedagogical spectrum,” Zygouritsas says. “From 100% online through to significant face to face interaction.”
The schools tend to serve: the long-term sick or hospitalized, disabled students, young parents or pregnant young women, travelers, bullied or school-phobic, students with behavior problems, drop-outs, imprisoned youth or the geographically isolated. Other schools serve students with special language needs, expatriates or elite performers.
Here’s a rundown of 8 Virtual Schools in Europe
Bednet in Belgium: Founded in Flanders in 2005, the school serves students who suffer from long term and chronic diseases. They use videoconferencing to help 160 students stay in contact with their classmates and teachers and to keep up with homework. For each student, Bednet uses two laptops – one with a student and the other in a classroom – two webcams, two scanner-printers and a camera focused on the blackboard in the classroom. Bednet plans to expand to serve 500 Flemish students.
InterHigh in Wales: A private, non-profit company serves 200 students between ages 11 and 18 with 20 teachers and staff. It’s geared to students who can’t attend mainstream schools in the UK because of learning disabilities or behavioral problems. It has more than 200 students, up from 23 when it started in 2005. The school uses a custom learning platform with Voxwire software and lessons follow the national curriculum. The school is helpful for children with Asperger’s syndrome. Students study online from home. InterHigh is expanding with new joint ventures in the UK.
Ensino a Distancia para a Itinerancia in Portual: This distance-learning project of the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science aims to provide school for children in circus families. It’s recently expanded to include hospitalized children, teen mothers and others. It has spots for up to 100 students and is based in Lisbon, where 23 teachers run the infrastructure and each tutor 3-5 students. It follows the Portuguese national curriculum. It uses a Moodle platform with chat as a main interaction tool. Ensino link.
iScoil in Ireland: A private, non-profit organization funded by the Presentation Sisters in Ireland and geared to students aged 13-16, who have school phobias or mental health issues. Welfare workers refer students to the school, which has a capacity of 50 students. The school uses Moodle as a learning platform.
Rigas Talmacibas Vidusskola in Latvia: Started in 2009 by the national education ministry, this school now offers primary and secondary distance learning for 450 students (age 14 to 57) in 22 different countries. The 29 teachers works with a mix of Skype, phone, email and any web-based program. Students learn in a mix of online group tutorials, independent studies, and tests.
Nettilukio – Otava Folk High School in Finland: Otava Folk High School started in 1892. It launched Internetix and, later, the project Nettilukio as a fully virtual upper high school 1996. The school designed its own learning platform called Muikku and has 500 students from around the world. It is geared to people with learning disabilities or those who were bullied and had a tough time in physical schools. Students in the school can choose to take 1) non-stop courses; 2) collaborative courses or 3) phenomenon-based learning. The school doesn’t use tests or exams.
Sofia Distans in Sweden: Started in 1994 for expat Swedes to be able to stay in the Swedish school system. Roughly 600 students are enrolled each year. There are 20 teachers for the school. Most students use a blended model, studying 50% of courses through Sofia Distans and the other 50% at a local school. Student outcomes are similar to physical schools.
Wererldschool in the Netherlands: Started in 1948 for Dutch students living in the colony of Indonesia, Wereldschool split into two schools. One supports students overseas and another called Ivio@School is for children in the Netherlands who are not suited for traditional Dutch classrooms. The school has 600 students. It’s a private school but is recognized by the government with limited government funding for “Dutch” language courses. While home-schooling is illegal in the Netherlands, this school is one way it is legal for some families.
The VISCED project that researched these schools recommends governments in Europe consider the effectiveness of these programs and open more such virtual schools for populations such schools could help. It has a Wiki for it’s ongoing research efforts.