Our Opinion: Pluses and minuses of virtual education

News Tribune editorial

What is the future of education?

Choosing a school online would be a more viable option under a proposal sponsored by state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

Barnes’ bill would permit students to enroll in online curricula not only in their own public school district, but in another district or a charter school.

The bill contains provisions for calculating and apportioning attendance-based state aid, but the bill’s specifics are not our focus.

A larger issue looms regarding the trend toward virtual education and the future of bricks-and-mortar schools, including plans to build a new Jefferson City High School.

Barnes’ proposal largely is a conceptual variation of an existing — although not widely used — option from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Missouri Virtual Instruction Program, or MoVIP, was established by lawmakers in 2007.

According to the web site, www. movip.org, the program offers online classes to Missouri students in grades K-12. The site describes MoVIP as a tuition program offering classes to public, private and home school students.

A virtual approach to higher education was included in January’s State of the State address by Gov. Jay Nixon.

He said Missourians would be able to enroll later this year in Western Governors University, an online school founded in 1995 by the governors of 19 states.

Online educational opportunities began with two goals. One was to accommodate students with special needs, such as health problems or disabilities. Another was to enhance traditional education, including challenging gifted students.

Today, virtual instruction is becoming an alternative to the brick-andmortar school for the entire spectrum of students.

As expected, education groups have concerns, not the least of which is socialization.

We shared similar reservations when the home-schooling movement began to gain traction. Those concerns largely have proved unfounded; home-school families have developed an active and productive network.

Is developing a similar network possible, or probable, for online students?

Time will tell.

The Internet, social media and other digital marvels provide tremendous resources. Despite all the virtual outreach however, sitting at a keyboard is largely an isolated activity.

We believe people, intrinsically, are social beings.

We hope so, because we do ourselves a disservice if we use technology to promote learning, but allow it to reduce our capacity for human interaction.

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