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With online learning looming, welcome to the 'schoolcation'

Down with the kids at Soneva Fushi's SCIE:NCE Centre in the Maldvies.

It's been a tough twelve months for parents globally and it's not over yet.

With many countries still in lockdown or under strict restrictions a year after the pandemic first started, mums and dads everywhere are now staring down the barrel of yet another term of online learning.

Fortunately the tourism industry is coming to the rescue with a spinoff from homeschooling with the chance to enhance the kids' educational offering while you laze on a lounger. Forget staycations (they're so 2020), 2021 is the year of the 'schoolcation'.

Four Seasons embraced the phenomenon in the second half of last year with the launch of ‘Knowledge for all Seasons’ at its Punta Mita resort in Mexico.

As they settle in for online lessons at the resort, kids can access ‘study buddies’ to sit with them as they learn. Beach or poolside cabanas can be reserved, fully-supplied with Wifi, TV monitor, headphones, chargers and (natch) energising snacks - think smoothies, fruit and ice lollies. There's professional educational support available for private tutoring and the resort can also provide technical help, with a ‘tech team’ on hand to resolve ipad or computer issues and even a poolside ‘Screen Doctor’ to ensure stray water droplets don’t get in the way of double biology.

Outside of online school, the resort offers world-schooling classes and access to community-giving projects.

Meanwhile, Coppola Hideaway Family Holidays in Belize and Guatemala has set-up Coppola Curriculum, a screen-free learning programme for school-age children up to the age of 18. Hands-on learning with local experts includes fishing, scuba diving, tortilla making, organic gardening, sustainability practices, guitar playing, painting, Mayan archaeology and community service work.

‘Lessons’ run for three to four hours each day, leaving parents in peace to conduct their own scholastic investigations, such as to what degree the pool loungers recline.

In Asia Pacific, luxury hospitality group Soneva is set to open a SCIE:NCE Centre in the Maldives. Short for Soneva Centre for Island Ecosystems, the centre will be located at the island resort of Soneva Fushi.

The objective of the centre is to create guest experiences and learning opportunities around the subjects of marine and terrestrial biology, astronomy and conservation.

For those children not in situ, the centre will be setting up and recording short videos that it will be sharing on its online platform. Youngsters will be able to sign-up for online courses which will be distributed through existing educational platforms, such as FutureLearn.

Dr Bart Knols, a medical entomologist, has been appointed to oversee the setting up of the centre. Facilities will include a research lab for in-house and visiting scientists, an outdoor structure for behavioural and ecological studies of mosquitoes, a coral propagation centre with the aim of setting up the largest scale coral propagation in the world, as well as a lecture room, library and office space.

“We see a lot of interest from children to learn, either remotely or on-site, about astronomy, marine biology and conservation,” said Sonu Shivdasani, chief executive officer and founder of Soneva. “It’s our hope that we will develop week-long classes that children can subscribe to when they are at our resorts and subscribe to digitally if they are unable to physically visit Soneva.”

The US$250,000 centre will be funded with donations and grants and it’s hoped it will be completed by the end of 2021.

And even airbnb has got in on the schoolcation act with the launch of its Virtual Field Trips platform. The programme is designed to broaden kids’ horizons as well as supplementing their core curriculum. The online experiences are hosted by experts, such as ‘Decoding The Science of 2020’ with US ‘science guy’ Bill Nye, and a ‘Socially Conscious Story Hour’ with filmmaker, actress and activist Olivia Wilde.

Parents can also gain access to more than 75 extracurricular Online Experiences, hosted from more than 20 countries. Activities include leopard safaris in Sri Lanka, street art and sketching in Argentina, pinata making in Mexico and finding out about space with an astronomer in Norway.

As one participant put it, “it’s a difficult time to be a student.” And of course it’s no walk in the park for parents, either. A more imaginative approach to learning - combined with some good old fashioned parental downtime - has got to be a good thing.


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