Virtual Elementary Schools for Engineering, Arts, Languages, Whatnot

When I started my upper secondary (highschool) studies in the early nineties, I would’ve liked to take Latin as an optional subject. Don’t ask me why, I just would’ve. Since there were no interested people in our school besides me and my pal, it wasn’t worthiwhile to organize a latin class for my age group. So I chose German instead. Again: don’t ask me why.

Whittenberg's mascot is a robot, naturally.

Whittenberg’s mascot

Fast forward 20 odd years. The Atlantic just run a story about “America’s tiniest engineers”. The story describes A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering. That’s right, elementary school. Kids aged 5-6 years at the youngest.

What do you think about this? Does it make sense to specialize so early? Or is there a danger that we hide something potentially interesting or important from the child?

My spontaneous reaction to this is positive. As long as the basic curriculum is satisfied, emphasizing things that the children naturally take interest can only do good. At least this subject-oriented differentiation of little kids sounds a lot better than skill-oriented.

Whittenberg has robot as a mascot, iPads to study and play with, lots of project work, all kinds of cool stuff. At this point your inner cynic (or at least realist) wakes up: Not all schools can afford iPads and other fun gadgets. I agree 100%. I don’t propose all schools to be turned into schools of engineering. Nor to schools of arts, languages, or sports.

No, what I am thinking is how basic online technologies could help in specialization and implementing rare optional subjects. If there is a computer equipped with online access at school or home, it is possible to build online communities spanning the school boundaries. And what’s important, these communities can be very niche.

Back to me and my unrealized Latin studies: In the early 90s the Internet existed, sure, but Tim Berners-Lee was still working on the foundations of the world wide web. The machines in my school’s two computer classrooms were not connected to the outside world.

Now the situation is different. It shouldn’t be too difficult to organize Latin studies by working virtually. Finland is a small country with only five million inhabitants. However, I am sure there are enough people each year for a couple of Latin groups, if the participants can come from wherever in the country.

Furthermore, there is no need to wait until the upper secondary studies for these virtual classes. Why not build a couple of virtual elementary schools of engineering? After all, most graduates from such schools are going to work virtually on a daily basis. No wait, most graduates from all shools are going to.

I am leaving you with a video of how this virtual work today takes place. Hopefully there is going to be progress on that front as well:


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