With headlines like “Erie schools are approaching bankruptcy,” you might get the impression the district is in big trouble. Coupled with constant demands from the governor for more money for education, stories of Philadelphia schools needing $5 billion for repairs, the Erie schools finding they need more “English as a second language” teachers which will require funding beyond what they already need, what’s a student or parent to do? All you want to do is get an education for yourself or your child. Can you just ignore the politics, take matters into your own hands and learn whatever you need on your own? Well, yes, you can.
Online options to brick and mortar classrooms
You’ve likely heard people talking about online education, but if you’re unaware of what’s out there, that talk doesn’t help you to actually sit down and learn, so we thought it would make sense to list a few of the low cost and no cost options available right now for anyone to learn as much as he or she wants.
But it won’t work for me because …
- “I won’t get accepted.” Everyone is accepted.
- “I don’t have the money.” Many of these courses are free.
- “I can’t travel to a school far away.” These are online, you can take them wherever you are.
- “My schedule changes all the time.” Online courses operate on your schedule.
- “I’m too old or too young to study those subjects.” Age doesn’t matter in the least.
- “I can’t keep up with the other students.” You learn at your own pace.
- “The other students slow me down.” Again, you learn at your own pace.
- “I don’t have a computer.” If you’re reading this on a computer, tablet or smartphone, you have what you need.
If you’re a student and you want to work part time, you can adjust your learning schedule as necessary. If you’re motivated and really want to learn as much as you can, you can learn every day, all year round. You will have many of the best teachers available teaching a range of subjects local schools don’t offer.
Never before in the history of the world has there ever been so much knowledge offered to anyone who wants to learn without any questions or qualifications. Make no mistake, you still have to do the work, there’s no magic pill or Matrix-like plug in the back of your head that will instill the knowledge without effort, but anyone who wants to learn can learn. These courses are all online, many are free, some are very low cost, some refund your cost if you complete the course and do all of the exercises, some charge you if you want to get a certification, but no one will keep any student out. No gatekeepers, no admissions office. Period. And that’s pretty cool.
A short list of academic options
Since we’re focusing on options to public schools in Erie and Erie County, this list will be short and to the point, without covering many of the specialized technical courses on computer programming or learning how to use specific software packages. There are a lot of music and art classes, too, plus how-to classes to cover the manual skills, but for now, we’ll just stick with the short list, though the content these options offer is enormous.
An excellent place for motivated K-12 students
- The Khan Academy Probably the best known online education resource, the brainchild of Salman Khan who created a few videos to help his 12 year old cousin with math, realized a lot of people loved them and continued from there. Now with thousands of videos on math, science, economics and finance, arts and humanities, computing and test prep it lets students of all ages learn and progress at their own pace. Totally donor funded, it’s free for the student. A number of public schools have adopted the Khan Academy for use in their own districts with excellent results. If you have never heard of the Khan Academy, you really must check it out. It’s phenomenal!
The following are college level, but any student can take them.
- edX A partnership of MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, Univ. of Texas, Columbia and RWTH Aachen University, courses are free to audit with a fee for a verified certificate.
- MIT Open Courseware Pretty much everything MIT offers, all online.
What about those English as a second language students?
The Erie schools are getting an influx of non English speaking students and say they need money for more staff. On the other hand, if someone needs to learn English, they could try Duolingo. Completely free, online at your own pace, and when you’re ready, you can take the test to get a Duolingo Certificate. The test is $20 and is comparable to the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) which is widely accepted and far more expensive.
No, it’s not for every student, but more than you think
Students that do well with online coursework are motivated, they want to learn and are exactly the students public schools often neglect because of the time and resources necessary to focus on students who need more assistance, but some of those students would do well online, too. A student who is under performing is often uncomfortable when he or she falls behind, but online, they aren’t exposed to ridicule or criticism from other students, they can focus on learning to the best of their abilities and can spend all of the time necessary to master the material and excel.
While the public schools struggle to pay the bills, there’s no reason parents and students have to suffer. There are options available right now. The list above is only a very small slice of what’s out there, but it should open everyone’s eyes to the possibilities. So, while politicians argue over budgets and bureaucrats debate which education programs to cut next, take matters into your own hands. Every student’s future is at stake.