Online learning may be all the rage in Hong Kong now but the quality can be patchy. While the English Schools Foundation and international schools are getting top marks for implementing e-learning, local schools are scrambling to catch up.
Ifat Hindes, a mother of two pupils from a primary school in Sai Kung, said her children don't have any chance to meet their teacher during the online teaching period.
"Most local schools are not like ESF schools which have the resources and experience to conduct online learning," she said.
The ESF, which operates 22 international schools and has about 17,800 students in total, started to run live-streaming online lessons shortly after the holiday ended, ensuring teachers and students are as efficient and productive as they are on a regular school day.
The school in which Hindes' children study started to conduct online learning three weeks after the Education Bureau announced the school suspension.
Teaching materials consist of prerecorded videos uploaded by the school in which children can do multiple-choice questions.
"They finish the video very quickly - often in less than 20 minutes every day," Hindes said.
As this is plainly not enough, the school has offered make-up classes for the same topics as the online materials after classes resume.
Schools should review and adjust the content of teaching materials and strengthen support for parents, said a recent survey on online learning.
The survey of parents showed 35 percent of kindergarten parents and almost half of primary school parents were dissatisfied with online learning arrangements, complaining about the lack of support (nearly 50 percent) and parent-school communications (about 30 percent).
Conducted by the department of early childhood education at the Education University of Hong Kong between February 19 and 22, the survey collected responses from 6,702 parents of kindergarten and primary school students.
Parents, who gradually returned to work while their children will continue to stay at home during the school suspension until at least April 20, found that their children have trouble learning at home.
Eva Lau Yi-hung, associate head of the department of early childhood education at EdUHK, who was in charge of the survey, said that only around 10 percent of parents reported that children can finish the learning process independently, as most teaching materials do not clearly present the topics and working methods.
Although more than 70 percent of kindergarten parents and 80 percent of primary school parents indicated that online learning activities have been provided during the class suspension, most of the online learning materials are prerecorded videos or resources available on other learning platforms.
The lack of interaction between teachers and students led to the dissatisfaction among parents.
More than 20 percent of kindergarten parents and 30 percent of primary parents said they lacked relevant knowledge to assist their children with their studies at home.
"Even if parents have the knowledge, they don't know how to pass it on and explain it, so they worry that their children will fall behind," said Lau.
"Young kindergarten students cannot complete the learning tasks on their own, so they need parental help," she continued.
"Without relevant support, parents with limited education will naturally feel pressurized."
Lau said more than half of parents would like to see remedial classes arranged after the school suspension.
The survey also found that the needs of parents of kindergarten students were different from those of primary school students.
Kindergarten parents, in general, felt that the learning activities the schools provided lacked variety, and they expected more diversified learning. In contrast, most primary school parents found that their children had too many different tasks to complete and that the work took too much time, resulting in a heavy burden on parents.
However, some parents reported that they were not consulted by the principal in advance and had to passively arrange their children's online classes according to the schedule provided by the school.
Lau pointed out that although online learning has been promoted in Hong Kong for many years, this is the first time it has been applied for such a long period on a mass scale.
"As a result, all parties - schools, students and parents - need time to get used to the mode, in particular very young students," she said.
Lau advised that schools should learn from the experience to find out what kind of support is needed by parents during the class suspension and to make more effort to communicate with parents.
The class suspension has also led to a sharp rise in the amount of time students spend using electronic screens, the survey showed.
Almost 80 percent of kindergarten parents said their kids spend more than an hour a day on them, exceeding the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization.
Nearly 40 percent of primary school parents said that their children were spending more than four hours a day using electronic screens and were using these products without the company or guidance of adults.
Hindes disliked the fact that her children are onscreen so much - despite the overuse being less to do with online learning but simply because they have more free time.
To minimize the time children spend looking at electronic screens, she and her husband add additional home lessons, take their children out on hikes, as well as doing housework with them, such as cleaning and baking.
"I don't think this period is about academics anymore," she said. "It's about parents and children spending more time together."
Lau said that schools should also look for ways to minimize the time the students spend on electronic screen products. "A balance of types of learning introducing diversified activities, both on and off-line, can help trigger learning interest."