Covid-19: How Well Are Hong Kong Schools Coping?

As Hong Kong’s international schools enter their sixth week of mandatory closures, we look at how online learning is being used to educate students, the cost of closing schools for at least 12 weeks, and how students are coping with the pressure of exams. There are lessons for schools around the world...
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Is online learning working?

The Harbour School posts an online experiment with sea urchins to explain reproduction and fertilization

The social media pages of many international schools across Hong Kong are filled with positive messages of encouragement, alongside images of students working from home.

From online journals and art projects to cooking in the kitchen, making music using pots and pans, and doing burpees in the living room, students are showing plenty of energy and commitment to home learning. It’s also interesting to see siblings in different year groups working together in their home activities.

While these images paint a very positive picture of online learning, they do not show the nagging parents, repeated calls to play computer games and watch TV, or the arguments between siblings. These must be obstacles to online learning in some households. They also don’t highlight the stress for working parents who need to leave their children all day in the care of a maid or nanny.

The negatives of online learning are highlighted in a recent survey by the Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) of more than 6,000 parents of kindergarten and primary school students in Hong Kong. This found that 70% of kindergarten parents and over 80% of primary school parents find that their children have trouble learning at home, and they are worried about their children falling behind. Difficulties encountered by their children included lack of concentration, interruption by family members, and a lack of resources.

The survey also found that the prolonged class suspension has resulted in increased exposure to electronic screens.

It’s true that while technology is enabling schools to explore innovative ways of learning, its main drawback is screen time. Nord Anglia International School, Hong Kong has responded to such concerns about screen time by encouraging its students to listen to podcasts.

Global Campus Leader at NAIS HK, David Robinson, advises parents on its website: “These are essentially free radio programmes which can be streamed or downloaded using most smart phones, tablets and laptops. Literally millions of shows can be accessed for free via apps such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud and many others.

“One issue students might face when listening to a podcast is what to do when their eyes are not glued to a screen. Our secondary students and teachers drew visualisations to reflect their listening on paper. Other options might include colouring in or doodling, going for a short walk, tidying up their bedrooms or playing with toys while they listen.”

On a positive note, the evolution of the online classroom has helped to involve some parents in their child’s curriculum.

Fong E, mother of Grades 2 and 8 children at Stamford HK, said:, “The PE home videos are a hit! We do the yoga poses at home as a family. I feel like I’ve gone back to school again these past few weeks, learning something that we have been taught before but in a totally different way.

"Now I can probably relate to the kids better when they tell me about things they do in school and the apps they use. I am learning too!”

While some students may be struggling with the demands of online learning, others are adapting well to their new style of education.

The classrooms at ESF's Sha Tin College remain empty while students such as Kevin study at home

Kevin Do Cao, a Year 13 student at ESF Sha Tin College, said: “I find that online learning makes life a bit less stressful. School's usually a bustling, boisterous environment. Whilst it does create an energetic, positive environment, it does get stressful at times. Between rushing to the cafeteria to get lunch and running to the 5th floor to get to lesson on time, working at home offers a change in pace in our lifestyle which does allow for more focused, efficient studying.

“In regard to practical learning, there are quite a few online video tutorials that demonstrate concepts without requiring the students to do it themselves. Personally, I find this method of learning more efficient, as it gets straight to point and is less time-consuming.

“Teachers have been quite supportive during this time and have offered help and advice to cope with the current situation. Nonetheless, it would be quite appreciated if they could set less homework!”

Online learning has also been a huge learning curve for many teachers. Schools had very little time to prepare teachers for delivering distance learning; while most teachers will be adept in using platforms such as Seesaw within the classroom, not all may have the tech expertise to fully embrace digital learning practices. That said, schools in Hong Kong do have the experience of working remotely through typhoons and the recent anti-government protests.

Next page: What is the cost of school closures to parents and schools?

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