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Children pick up curriculum packets for their classes, made available so students won't need a laptop to complete work, at a student meal distribution site in Denny International Middle School during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson - RC2YLF9IV9CV

We’ll be teaching children on Mars, says Hugh Viney, boss of Britain’s fastest-growing online school Minerva’s Virtual Academy. 


Here he shares his insight on how education is changing and why screen time has never looked so good.

How many times do we hear ‘shoot for the moon, aim for the stars’ when we are trying to inspire children to dream big? It’s all because we know there is no single route to success in education or, for that matter, no final destination. Education is lifelong, regardless of location, and our drive for knowledge can be both erratic and endless.

At Minerva’s Virtual Academy (MVA) we have Mars in our sights because we believe children in that first colony on the red planet will be our pupils.

Why? Because while engineers and astronauts are working tirelessly to explore our universe we have been breaking down barriers and using new technology so there are no physical limits to where children can learn.

And like many others who set out to innovate, change is never easy. Indeed, to sell our new vision of learning we had to set the scene long before Minverva’s Virtual Academy was launched. 

I have run Minerva Tutors – an online tutoring service – for more than six years and have seen that while a physical school has enormous benefits it can also be a negative environment for many children. Think of those where a school building and large class sizes can cause severe anxiety and associated complications for mental health. Then there are the young elite athletes who may need to be in various locations throughout the year to keep on top of training. And the children in families who travel and those who live in isolated parts of the world miles from a physical school.

The demand for homeschooling was certainly already growing – then the pandemic happened and forced families from across the world to test the theory. Sometimes innovation needs a catalyst and this was it.

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While online lessons were at first seen as a necessary but inferior alternative to help navigate a series of lockdowns, it soon emerged that for hundreds of thousands of children they were actually the better option. These children were thriving online. All they needed was the chance to give it a go.

By the end of 2020 our phones were ringing off the hook at Minerva Tutors, but 1-2-1 tutoring is expensive…more than traditional private schools. Yet now we’d identified the need for an alternative to traditional schooling, one which offered all the very best parts of a school without having to physically be there. Then came the tough bit – it had to be affordable to those who were in a position to make the choice, and accessible to those vulnerable children who needed it but possibly couldn’t afford it.

Minerva’s Virtual Academy is a full-purpose online independent school offering a world-class private education at 25 percent of the price of traditional private schools. We have everything a great school has: assemblies on Monday morning with the headmaster, incredible, inspirational teachers giving interactive and engaging lessons, not just recordings or videos, pastoral care, well-being support and mentors to look up to, life-long friendships and a thriving school community, after school clubs, life skills, confidence, communication skills, entrepreneurship, world-class learning resources, and digital content together with those all-important qualifications like iGCSEs and A levels. 

It’s just that all of this is delivered online so pupils come to school from their homes, their study, their youth centre, their sports club – wherever they are, around the world. 

School should not be a one size fits all approach – that’s what parents are currently faced with: one option. I am only too happy to admit our school doesn’t suit most kids, but we are the perfect way to school for what I call the “significant minority” of 20 percent of all kids.

And to me that 20 percent deserve the time and effort to develop a platform that works for them. Screen time has never looked so good.


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