Online schools - education solution or 'absolute disaster'?

Education Minister Hekia Parata (Getty)
Education Minister Hekia Parata (Getty)

The political party which brought us charter schools is welcoming the idea of online-only education with open arms.

The proposal's called 'COOL' - short for Communities of Online Learning - and would see kids taught on a computer at home rather than in a classroom.

It'll replace going to a traditional school, and ACT leader David Seymour says it's a brilliant idea.

"It's quite possible that you're going to have a person whose particular circumstances are such that they haven't got on very well in the existing school system, and this is the solution that will work with them."

"The internet is changing many industries very rapidly, and it will change education too. The question is whether the New Zealand Government is going to be permissive to technological change, or stop it and let us fall behind the rest of the world."

Angela Roberts, president of the Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA), says the proposal - which could be the biggest shake-up of the education system since the 1980s - will damage the state education system most children rely on.

"Anything that increases privatisation and reduces resources and support for the network of state schools is of course going to be damaging."

New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin has also slammed the idea, saying it will devalue teachers and affect the development of social skills.

She's calling it the "largest social experiment on our children that we've ever seen in this country".

"I think it's terrible. I think they've got a cool catchphrase that they're trying to market an education system on. It's a disaster, an absolute disaster," says Ms Martin.

"This is one of the most dangerous things I've ever seen to education. It's the final nail in the coffin devaluing trained and qualified teachers in front of our children."

Mr Seymour hopes it'll involve foreign-based providers as well. Any privatisation of the state education system - including charter schools - doesn't sit well with the PPTA.

"When you rely on privatisation, it doesn't work. What should be happening is there should be solid investment in our students, in our schools."

"This will enable corporate entities to enter the market," says Ms Martin. "Our students are not commodities to be traded on the market."

Labour and the Greens also have concerns.

"If this is just modernising the correspondence school Te Kura then it's long overdue, but if it's about extending the charter school into the digital environment then there's some real risks about that," says Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins.

He adds kids learn a lot at school that isn't "purely academic".

Ms Parata says the initiative mimics models being used overseas.

"What we're providing for if the Bill goes through is that anyone who wants to apply to be an online provider must meet a very rigorous accreditation process, so as minister I'd be required to look at each one on their own individual merits."

The Education (Update) Amendment Bill is the result of 1800 submissions and 120 meetings, workshops and presentations.

It will now go through the select committee process.