Plenty of attention has been drawn to the way traditional public and private schools are transitioning to online learning models during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for many years now, online schools have largely gone overlooked, despite being a groundbreaking alternative to offline education. With full academic years and complete curricula administered entirely online, these types of schools are steadily extending their reach overseas as education in general makes a push toward globalization. The future of education seems to be aimed across borders, and with that shift we are likely to see a growing demand for language and translation services that can help meet global demand for today’s emerging learning models.
What Are Online Schools?
Homeschooled children in the United States will likely know of Laurel Springs Academy, an elite K-12 private online school that has been churning out notable Ivy-League-bound alumni (including celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, and Kylie Jenner) for nearly three decades. It offers all the services of other schools — college counseling, curricula, advising — through a remote learning model free of offline facilities.
Education is changing fast in the age of the internet, and as such it is becoming more globally accessible. There is also an increasing global recognition for schools like Laurel Springs, which was credited by the United Nations in 1990 for the Global 500 Roll of Honor Award.
In February, Laurel Springs formed a notable partnership with another renowned online school on a mission to reform education: the Minerva Project, established in 2014. The Minerva Project, the company behind the online university the Minerva School, is the product of a handful of Harvard deans, liberal arts college presidents, established cognitive scientists, and Ivy-League business school alum. A highly selective admissions process (less than 2% of applicants are admitted), a star-studded faculty, and impressive standardized testing numbers established this college as an Ivy-league adjacent administered online. The result is a college that offers seminar-style classes in all subjects through a groundbreaking online platform, utilizing pedagogical techniques drawn from scientific research. Since shocking traditional colleges with its emergence in 2014, Minverva has been steadily expanding its student body, curricula, and worldwide reach. Today, 78% of its student body comes from outside the US.
Minerva could also ostensibly gain much from contracting its revolutionary teaching platform to other schools abroad. One of Minvera’s first partnerships established the platform and curricula at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, a prestigious research institute, making it clear that Minerva’s platform plans to be a global powerhouse in education. These facts have not escaped investors abroad. In the summer of 2019, Minerva raised $57 million to support its platform from Bytedance, the Chinese tech giant responsible for viral video-sharing app TikTok.
With such rapid movement towards this innovative “future of education”, successful models are not likely to remain local, and will find demand for expansion into other cultures and languages. Translation and localization will play a huge role in broadening the reach of education – especially the elite, in-demand offerings that Laurel Springs and the Minerva School offer, as well as others like them
An Analogy From the World of MOOCs
Quality translation is essential to the future of innovative education. Perhaps the best-known and most-used online education materials are Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs — free and open services that let students find supplemental or even complete educational content. However, MOOCs serve as a cautionary tale for the advance of online schools abroad. While MOOCs aim for an impressively global reach — often creating heavy demands for their products in other countries — translations of their content remain poor or insufficient.
The two foremost MOOC giants, Coursera and Khan Academy, both rely on crowdsourced translations to provide their content in other languages. Any visitor to their site with a self-professed knowledge of two languages can translate for their site. While ideologically in line with their company values, this method has generated subpar translations on what would otherwise be valuable educational content. Without a proficiency test, standardized quality control, and teams of people working together in the same language, translations simply come out short on quality and substance. Though Khan Academy boasts availability in more than 50 languages, the platform is only completely available in 14 of these. Those languages tend to be the ones in which bilingual speakers are most readily available, or for which Khan Academy has enlisted the help of other organizations.
Crowdsourced translation runs into the pitfall of not having as many bilingual speakers of a much-needed language as visitors, with the result of excluding a significant number of potential users of the platform. As an example, it is shocking that despite Khan Academy’s popularity in America and among children with disabilities, 0% of the platform is available in American Sign Language (ASL). The other titan of MOOC, Coursera, was reprimanded by translation industry workers for announcing that their translation quality was on par with professional translation services. They were forced to apologize and to retract their statement (via tweet) due to outrage over the veracity of this statement.
CSOFT International is a nationally recognized, leading provider of native, in-country translators. Our linguists are dedicated to the advance of technology and innovation through deep cultural and linguistic understanding and quality assurance for every translation we complete. Our translators work to ensure true access to content across languages and borders, which will be increasingly vital to the education industry as it breaks out of traditional and geographic barriers and tends toward global innovation.