Teacher Profiles

PA Cyber featured at women’s international education conference

Jun 28, 2016

Education for girls in developing countries often ends at a fifth-grade level. Is online education an answer for providing them with a high school education? And, can the example set by PA Cyber Charter School help inspire such a change?

Educational consultant Sally Chamberlain will cite PA Cyber’s example as she presents a workshop at the 32nd Triennial Conference of Graduate Women International in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 24-26. GWI is dedicated to using education to promote equality and empowerment for women, especially those in developing countries.

“The topic for my workshop is online education and how it can serve as a safe and accessible option for quality secondary education worldwide,” said Chamberlain. “I designed the workshop based in part on my experience working with PA Cyber's model of educational delivery and how it offers options for a diverse population.”

She said, “In the past few decades there has been a movement to get more of our world's children in primary schools. The statistics reveal progress up to about fifth grade, after which a dramatic drop happens, especially for young girls. There are many reasons for this. Certainly there is a cultural bias against schooling for girls and a push for early marriages.”

Learning in schools without sanitary facilities, education for girls ends in many developing countries when they reach the age of menstruation. “They don’t want them in school,” said Chamberlain.

She said GWI members are well-educated women who work for social change. Many are connected to institutions of higher education, though they may not necessarily be academics. Those from developing countries often represent the advantaged of their country, “so they can make change happen.”

She said, “Until girls receive a quality secondary education they will not be prepared to be leaders in their home countries. Secondary education is the key.”

In thinking about what she might be able to bring to the conference, Chamberlain decided the recent development in the U.S. of K-12 online schools such as PA Cyber was a story that attendees should have the chance to hear.

 “These people are used to online, but higher education online. Very few have any kind of K-12 online education understanding. That is the thrust of what I will present at the conference,” said Chamberlain.

The image of children in developing countries writing on slates in a village school is an enduring but outdated myth, she said.

“Online education is one of the big movements in refugee camps,” said Chamberlain. “They can learn language skills on cellphones. Everyone has cellphones.”

Corporate sponsors could easily be enlisted to supply digital devices such as tablets for students to learn on. “The hardware is not the hard thing to get,” she said. “The infrastructure – the schools, bandwidth and learning systems - is the hard thing.”

Professional teacher development is another area of high potential benefit. “Online can be used for training teachers,” she said. “There’s a critical shortage of qualified teachers in these countries.”

Chamberlain for 27 years was a teacher and administrator in Pennsylvania public classroom schools. She then worked for more than seven years for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, helping public schools meet the assessment and accountability mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

During her early years with PDE she said that “Nobody was paying attention to the cybers. They were the ugly stepchild. I was a public school teacher, and was really skeptical about cyber until I worked in it. I became a convert to online schooling.”

Chamberlain left PDE eight years ago to start her own educational consulting business. For the past five years she has worked extensively with PA Cyber, applying her experience in assessment and accountability as NCLB transitioned into the new federal mandate, Every Student Shall Achieve.

Chamberlain, who holds a bachelor’s in education from Drexel University and master’s from Penn State University, for many years lent her volunteer efforts to the American Association of University Women. She served on the AAUW national board of directors and was involved in providing grants from the AAUW foundation to women re-entering the educational system.

She joined Women Graduates International because “I was interested in working with an organization with more of an international focus. Education is its main focus – how education can be improved for girls and women.” She currently serves on the board of WGI’s U.S. affiliate.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, WGI works closely with the United Nations and aligned non-governmental organizations involved in educational missions. GWI has affiliate organizations in 60 countries, and members in an additional 40 countries.

The structure for her workshop, Chamberlain said, is for a brief presentation to be followed by an interactive session and small group discussions. She expects about 60 members to participate in her workshop.

“I will use PA Cyber as an example, talking about its start-up experience and how it has evolved and changed,” Chamberlain said. “That will set the stage for how online education could be adapted in these countries.

“I am very excited for this opportunity and I am equally excited to use this as a means of showcasing the fine work at PA Cyber to a global audience.”

Media Contact

Jennie Harris / jennie.harris@pacyber.org

About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instruction methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and does not charge tuition to students or families.