How educators can play catch up

Education | Ken and Catherine Chu 2 Jun 2020

School closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have affected over one billion students worldwide, according to Unesco. Many are attending virtual classes to keep up with school curriculums at home through online communication platforms and apps.

In Hong Kong, 900,000-plus students have seen their classes suspended since the Lunar New Year - long before the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11.

Schools are only just beginning to reopen.

Secondary three to five students returned to class on May 27, while primary four to secondary two are expected to resume classes on June 8 and upper kindergarten to primary three on June 15.

To better prepare for schools reopening, we can draw some lessons from the past few months.

Asking our students, especially those in primary and junior high school, to independently work through the sheer volume of curriculum online can create extra stress. They may not be able to sustain and continually regulate their learning, and their concentration and motivation will fall over time.Keeping them focused and motivated is vital.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, children have attended virtual classes online at home via electronic communications devices and software, and it is said that the landscape of education will be reshaped completely by the pandemic due to the growing importance of online teaching in education.

However, technology can support, rather than replace, teachers. There are also inherent limitations in online education - the most notable of which is a lack of meaningful human to human interaction.

After reopening, schools should design more outdoor field trips and group sports activities, and additional efforts must be taken to safeguard the emotional, social and mental well-being of students.

Secondly, disadvantaged children studying in cramped apartments will easily be distracted. They also often lack technical resources, internet access and parental support. The education bureau should support schools and NGOs to rent out tablets or laptops with subsidized Wi-Fi to low-income families.

Educators also need to assess and plan for various scenarios to deal with missed learning urgently - for example, whether to extend term time to make up for missed learning. Differentiation and personalization of learning will become more important, as students who have responded well to distance learning might be bored while repeating the curriculum, but those who have missed learning will need to catch up.

Educators may need to initiate intensive tuition for small groups for catch up now remotely or when school resumes.

More importantly, Hong Kong should consider making use of global education networks and partnerships to extend learning beyond school in times of epidemic and over regular school times.

After this epidemic, many schools will readily adopt and incorporate forms of online distance learning and virtual collaboration as an integral part in enriching the educational offering.

Ken Chu is the chairman and CEO of Mission Hills Group and his younger sister Catherine is the executive director of Mission Hills Group and cofounder of Bromsgrove School Mission Hills in Shenzhen

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