Many sectors have been affected by the pandemic, especially the education sector, which was hit hard during the crisis. Schools that are particularly ahead of the curve and look to the future, such as Open Mind Accelerated International Academy (www.openmindvirtualschool.com), have managed to pull through. Meet Jean Arnaud, the school’s founder.
Can the pandemic be seen as the source of an educational revolution?
The pandemic has accelerated everything that the pioneers of digital education were already exploring, and normalized an education that was conceived as marginal — reserved for high-potential profiles, for example, or for those who had made the choice to homeschool. We started before the pandemic because we believe that the physical school is outdated and belongs to the past because of its rigidity, its lack of diversity, and its inability to form children capable of thinking about the future or inventing it.
Traditional schools now are almost exclusively conceived as a social space, or a huge day care center. Everyone has lost the deep sense of what school is: a place where values and citizenship behaviors are learned and also where we learn to think, analyze, debate, collaborate, manipulate, and create.
Parents turned to us when they realized that their children’s schools were unable to rebound or adapt to the new situation. We offered a safer environment with small class sizes (12 maximum); we used powerful and professional software; and we adopted an active, creative, and accelerated pedagogy.
Parents quickly came to understood everything that they hadn’t previously realized didn’t work in traditional schools. One certainty is that mass education is outdated. As long as 20 (or more) students are crowded into one class, individualized education cannot be achieved. We know that mass education is not capable of adapting fast to new situations and creating quick solutions to problems. What our leaders sometimes lack is the analytical and creative spirit to find solutions. Instead, they often reproduce existing models.
The online school that parents experienced during pandemic doesn’t reflect the real efficiency and potential of online classes. Many physical schools were forced in a short time to bring their programs online, and they lacked experience in doing so. The real online schools had already been created with a vision to be fully digital; hence, their classes and programs are more adapted to today’s needs.
In addition, the fixed school rhythms are too rigid for today’s lifestyle. These rhythms lead to a culture of inefficiency, where those who work long hours are rewarded, whereas the start-up culture that will be predominant in the future, with a proliferation of freelancers and the self-employed, requires versatility and efficiency. No one cares what time an employee arrives, as long as the objectives are met and the company progresses.
In the same way, a child who is able to go faster must be able to do so, and a child who needs more time must be given more time to complete tasks and reach understanding. Methods to reach the top of a mountain are numerous; nothing says that the shortest is the best. Some people get excited about the idea of using several of them; others only like the traditional path; still others take pleasure in contemplating which way to go. Online schools are a step towards more personalized education, and in that way they benefit students more than physical schools.
For a long time, people believed that math was the ultimate key to success in tech fields. Today, studies show that literary and philosophical profiles are also successful in tech positions, as they bring new perspectives and ideas. Perhaps these right-brained candidates are successful because before building a machine, it is necessary to think about it not only as a machine, but in its context, and to consider the impact it can have on an intellectual and social level.
Schools must leave more room for manipulation, activity, and creation, which is what our school is trying to develop. We believe that we can be a positive resource for our society, which is in the process of completing its digital revolution. We offer children the opportunity to to create an international network, speak several languages, make his or her own “school,” and to add to his or her course modules from anywhere in the world. We give students the keys to serenely approach the future, and to think about it, invent it, and shape it.
What are the differences between a so-called “traditional” school and what you offer online?
We are proposing a system that we believe is more adapted to face the future. We have put an end to overcrowded classes and are working with our “Nova” platform to set up a system capable of individualizing teaching.
We offer complementary modules that allow us to compose an education adapted to each child. We provide modern, multilingual teaching with innovative modules based on a creative, project-based pedagogy because we know that human beings learn best by manipulating and creating with others.
Our teaching is particularly rigorous, with frequent competitions that allow our students to maintain real enthusiasm and see their projects highlighted. We teach our students not only to think, but to analyze the world and reinvent it in a spirit of caring and collaboration.
Our students are also taught to use professional software such as Photoshop, Canva, Procreate, Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro, and new technologies such as 3D printers. Our students write books and design them from scratch, create 3D children’s magazines, build 3D houses, create companies, invent machines, write and deliver speeches, and edit films and documentaries that they have written — with amazing results! Everyone who comes to us knows that we are the future of education.
How will the school evolve in the years to come?
I believe that initially the hybrid system will take hold in the most advanced schools. In fact, we have invited these schools to form partnerships with Open Mind Accelerated International Academy. They offer the stability of the academic world, with its rigor and its degree programs. We complement them by bringing our expertise in the field of French and also our innovative courses in French and English. Our modules in entrepreneurship for young children, music and digital arts, creative writing, and creative engineering are all contributions that enrich the offerings of traditional schools.
We are responding to what I believe is the fundamental problem with schools today, which is that they are behind the world and therefore cannot teach how to think about it or reinvent it. Other schools will try to recover the habits of the pre-Covid world (as did some companies that have refused to move to remote work), with the inevitable problem that this world no longer exists.
In the same way that Tesla forced other car manufacturers to step out of their comfort zones and reinvest in systems capable of producing cleaner engines, we are forcing traditional schools to change their approaches with more active and creative pedagogies to replace methods and tools that are obsolete.