Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Boutique Virtual Pre-School (I Am Not Making This Up)

Here's another entry in the swanky virtual pre-school field. It's Bumo Virtual School, and it is the brainchild of an influencer and an entrepreneur. They originally wanted to start a café where parents could hang out while their littles played and learned stuff. It was going to be "a chic little spot in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Century City." But then the coronavirus happened, so they shifted gears and launched a virtual school start-up instead, because it's practically the same thing.

Let's meet these two start-uppists.

First, we have Chiselle Lim, whose occupation is usually listed as "influencer" or "fashion stylist," and you may raise an eyebrow, but the woman has a Wikipedia page. Her fashion-beauty-lifetyyle blog, The Chiselle Factor, is slick as hell; on her other social media accounts (including the Instagram account with 1.4 million followers, she is billed as "your rich mom." This article paints her as the main push behind this operation, but it's her friend who is providing the educational leadership.

Not a great idea
That would be Joan Nguyen, "Award-Winning Entrepreneur & Educator." Nguyen started MeriEducation at age 20, which is now virtual and boasts "if you can shop online, you can learn online." MeriEducation is mostly a tutoring and test prep service, and Nguyen has won all sorts of entrepreneurial awards for it.  Her own work as "Elite-Level Academic and College Coach" involves getting high school students well-positioned to get into the school of their choice, as well as helping with that application process. Her personal coaching programs are by invite only. She has grown MeriEducation into four centers (including Newport Beach, Pasadena, and Redlands), and because one of her passions is design, she has designed all the centers herself.

The two women have, between them, four children ranging from age 18 months to 5 years. They told the interviewer from South China Morning Post that this was something they wished they'd had:

Lim remembers having to entrust the care of her child to someone else so she could continue her work, and being overwhelmed with parental guilt.

“I felt like our options were slim to none,” she says.

I don't know. My gut sense is that a lack of options in life is not a problem that these women face.

If this all seems a little shaky, a little diletantes-messing-with-school, a closer look at the Bumo site won't help. The site claims that this is backed by "350 years of educator experience all across the globe," a look at the staff suggests that's not the 350 years we're referring to. Of the eight teachers and teacher's assistants profiled on the site, only one has an education degree and only two have spent any time in a classroom (three years tops). One has a business degree and worked for a year as an AmeriCorp Teaching Fellow; another profile lists college orientation leader as part of her qualifying background. One teaching asssistant "worked in public education"-- that turns out to have been in tutoring.

The website comes with testimonial quotes, which is pretty impressive since the school opened--I am not making this up-- last week on May 18.

The program is not cheap and varies depending on which track you choose and where you are in the world; the program is international, but because the student gets a monthly box of supplies, shipping costs figure in. If you're in the US, the Jumpstart track costs $199 a month. If you want the Success track, which includes some live teacher-led classes and "access to a group of 'cohorts' so the kids can foster friendships"--we are talking about 3-6 year olds here-- that version  with the extra human touch comes at a steep $599 per month. The company is committing to some scholarships as well. The plan is for a rolling intake process throughout the year.

Oh, and Lim says that the idea behind all of this is "to democratize quality early education." And “Generally, where you live determines what type of education you have. But through a virtual school like this, we can break that cycle."

I do not mean to in any way disparage these women, who are clearly hard-working, smart, and hugely successful in their fields of endeavor. Nor do I want to pick on their staff. These all look like very nice people with the best of intentions.

But I can't help it-- my eyes are rolling soooo hard. For the zillionth time-- is there any other field that gets this kind of thing. Do people who are wealthy and successful say, "You know, I think I'll run a hospital. Hire some people with a heart for medicine, and just let 'er rip." Why is it always amateur hour on the education stage? These are smart women-- how do they manage to miss the fact that there is not a shred of evidence that trying to teach littles via screen is a good idea? Has Nguyen remained confident throughout, or has she had a single moment in which she thought, "You know, test prep for highly motivated high school students is probably different than teaching a three year old"?

Early childhood education is hard; people spend their whole lives studying how to do it and do it well, and there seems little indication that these folks have done any of the work. The whole "we're going to democratize good early education" thing is, first, silly given $600/month price tag and second, silly given that these women are not at all experts in what good early childhood education looks like. Virtual school for littles is a terrible idea to begin with; having it implemented by edu-amateurs does not improve it a bit.

1 comment:

  1. AH YES! Because it's never too early to drill multiplication facts into small children's heads, or to start sentence structure/grammar/punctuation. Turn them into robots early with all that faux STEAM education. How dreadful.