A school in your pocket

FlexiSchool, by Gaia Learning, takes school out of the building and puts it in the hands of young people and their parents to transform and reimagine a sustainable future for education.

Tuesday 5 April 2022

A new systems approach to human centred, sustainable learning.

"FlexiSchool is the platform to stage an education revolution." — Kirstin Coughtrie

What is Gaia Learning?

Gaia Learning is all about finding the balance and harmony between learners, parents, educators and technology to make education flexible, fun and relevant in the 21st century. The world needs joined up solutions that are sustainable for our future. We believe in supporting the whole learner, encouraging self directed study and making the best use of edtech to allow us to escape the confines of the classroom. We give learners choice over their education (choice of teachers, where and when they study) while still helping them succeed with traditional qualifications such as GCSEs and A Levels and preparing them to enter British universities or be career and futures ready. 

So, is Gaia Learning's FlexiSchool a school?

Gaia Learning is a Cambridge International School, registered to offer education programmes from Cambridge Assessment International Education, a department of the University of Cambridge. We are currently one of only 10 online schools in the world to be registered to do so. We deliver live lessons and personalised learning through our FlexiSchool app. This is evidence that the concept of school is being reimagined, but crucially, it is not being replaced by technology.

Learners access live classes and personalised resources through the FlexiSchool app.

People are still needed. Human connection is vital. Putting the learner at the heart of it is the key. We contain the fundamental building blocks/pieces of the puzzle to reimagine education better.

We do not replicate school online - we transform school because learning online frees families to spend more time in the real world.

Education is not going to be reimagined by politicians, it’s being changed right under their noses by the young people and the parents who need it to change. It’s an exciting time and there’s no stopping it now.

Why did you start Gaia Learning?

Parent perspective

When I was told that medication was the only way to help my eldest neurodiverse child, then age 7, to cope with school I fought for an alternative. He would make himself sick, so intense was his anxiety and fight-flight response. We moved around a lot when he was little so he tried many schools. In year 1 he broke out of school and ran up the street to find me. In year 2 I went to an assembly to watch his little sister receive an award and he walked in with a red card around his neck because the school thought that an appropriate punishment for him not being able to sit still. The next week I pulled him out of school and into a beautiful but incredibly expensive private school where he could climb trees and play sports and sing and dance. He excelled.

His anxiety all but disappeared in a private school with small class numbers, a personalised approach and regular opportunities in the day to move his busy body but the cost of this wasn’t sustainable as a single parent. When the bursary ran out and a pandemic ensued I decided it was time to think differently about their education and what I really wanted for my children's future.

I pulled my kids out of traditional school and left the classroom as a teacher to educate my three children through Gaia Learning with the help of carefully-selected progressive educators who share my vision and have not compromised on the personalised first class education I dreamed of for them. I designed Gaia Learning to give my children the best education I could afford.

Teacher perspective

But I also created it to be the best place to be an educator.

Teaching really is the best job in the world and now it’s a job young kids will aspire to have – where they can innovate, earn a good living and inspire others through the passion and expertise they have for their subject specialism. All Gaia educators are paid equally and better than in traditional education or on other platforms.

This is now a career parents can have around their other passions and caring responsibilities without compromising their wellbeing like many have to in the traditional education system. And this is how we are attracting the very best educators to work at Gaia Learning.

Going back to work gave me the courage and economic independence to leave a relationship which wasn’t good for me or my children. I won a scholarship to retrain as a teacher through the Royal Geographical Society, with the dream of moving into a private boarding school to give me and my children a safe place to be. This set me on a journey I wasn’t quite expecting; to challenge traditional systems and explore alternative learning environments to offer more women the chance to educate their children to the highest standards from anywhere, whilst freeing them to realise their earning potential doing work they love at the same time.

Global perspective

In January 2021, I became an Ambassador for Teaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals and these are woven into all aspects of the school, business and curriculum design. There are a lot of things that need to change in education, and Gaia Learning is one viable, flexible and innovative way that it can be done. We are not just talking about or imagining a better future or ways to improve education, we are living and breathing it. I wish to grow the team and invest in the virtual learning ecosystem we have started, to make this available to more families and inspirational educators around the world.

Gaia Learning is committed to being part of the solution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4​ “Quality Education” to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

According to the UN:

“Rapid technological changes present opportunities and challenges, but the learning environment, the capacities of teachers and the quality of education have not kept pace. Refocused efforts are needed to improve learning outcomes for the full life cycle, especially for women, girls and marginalised people in vulnerable settings.”

Why the name Gaia?

As a Geographer, I chose Gaia from James Lovelock’s theory of the Gaia Principle, which proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.

I believe humans and our development of technology can be included in this theory and that our future demands that we find better balance.

And yes, Gaia in mythology is female and represents ‘mother earth’ :)

The future of our planet is in the spotlight. Gaia is sustainable, dynamic, self healing, regenerating and leads to balance, growth, life.

There are so many systems that need to be challenged and alternatives sought - not just by patching over the current system with a bit of money here, a new tech widget there, some half baked new policy or initiative. We need to turn it all on its head. From education to funding, to social services to law.. But it all starts with education.

What are the main challenges education faces right now?

Where do I begin?! From teacher burn out, the redundancy of GCSE exams, repeated lockdowns, to the fact the current education system was designed during the Victorian era, which for today’s world is largely inadequate and is failing children today by not preparing them to thrive in a digitally transformed world, and leaving school lacking 21st century skills…

The most important for me is that they don’t prioritise sustainability, the arts, creativity student wellbeing, or even understand their vital importance. These aspects should not be extra curricular add ons, they need to be fundamentally and foundationally woven into everything we do.

You’re a Geography Teacher originally - how important is geography in the future of education?

In bricks and mortar schools, peer networking is limited to the postcode of the school catchment area, limiting students to the socio-economic status of their locality. This leads to a higher level of learning-related behaviour problems, inattention, disinterest, difficulty with teacher recruitment and retention in areas of low socio-economic status.

Gaia educators are already in the metaverse! Learners can access us anywhere - we are currently a trusted solution for school refusers who cope with high anxiety, for neurodiverse children whose ADHD makes classroom environments stressful, for digital nomads and expat families who move around a lot, for low income families and foster care children in receipt of education or tuition funding to help personalise and bridge the gap between life events.

Bricks and mortar schools can only be a one size fits all. We don’t need to work like that any longer.

Geo-political-racial divides are also falling away for a new generation of learners who don’t see artificial borders created in a bygone colonial age as having any relevance to them anymore. Children show up to class with a video or an avatar or a blanket over their head - it doesn’t matter. They are in control of their learning as so they should be.

Self directed learning seems the holy grail but so many teachers and schools don’t believe this is possible - do you?

Some kids are definitely born natural inquisitive learners. In fact if you watch babies and toddlers it is their natural instinct to teach themselves and learn from watching others. As Sir Ken Robinson said, school mostly stiffles that innate curiosity.

That said it’s all well and good that we could all probably learn all the secrets to the universe on our own, we don’t need to, we can learn from knowledge already out there. What is more important is that we teach kids are to think critically about all the knowledge they do encounter.

By 2030, 90% of the population older than six will be online. There’s a lot of bogus content out there. We need to create a safe learning ecosystem for young learners to develop critical thinking skills, evaluation, empathy and creativity.

If you could make changes to the state education system, what would be your top priorities?

Create safe spaces where students can interact with each other, have a voice in their local communities, play sports, be creative and get a hot meal. Vitally, these spaces should have investment for access to the most up to date, reliable internet technologies where students, irrespective of their postcodes, can access the best subject and industry experts, mentors and coaches to guide their on-demand, bespoke education in areas they are interested in and for which future businesses have demand.

Find out more about the courses we offer and how to enroll in our online school.

Kirstin Coughtrie
Edruptor, mother, change maker.