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Friday, April 17, 2020

The Other Side - CovidSchooling in Beijing, China

An almost empty flight bound for Beijing in late January. Photo: Matt Prichard

A look at how parents, teachers and students around the world are coping with schooling during a global pandemic.


NOTE: One thing we see with the coronavirus crisis is that the rules and expectations change daily, if not hourly. As I was doing the final edit of this article on the morning of Saturday, April 4 (Australian time), theBeijing teacher I had interviewed was changing her plans for the weekend and following week. I have kept the interview as planned, and added an update at the end. 

For those wondering why a different name was used, some of the teachers I spoke with (both in Asia and in Western countries) have requested anonymity as they don't want to be seen as speaking for their schools. I'm fine with that as it allows them to speak more freely.

When I first interviewed Anna (not her real name) at her home in Beijing, China, her 6-year-old daughter had a Zoom call scheduled with her class.

“But it’s not working very well,” Anna said. “I hate e-learning.”  

Her family comprises of herself, a secondary school teacher at an international school in the country’s capital; her husband who is self-employed in the hospitality industry; and their daughter. They also have an ayi – literally “aunt” in Chinese and the name given to domestic helpers – to assist.

Anna is on her second teaching stint in China, where she has notched up more than a decade, and she was in the country during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

She says she became aware of this new coronavirus sometime in January when it was being reported in the news, and it became a topic of conversation.

“We heard, ‘oh, there’s a new mystery flu in Wuhan,’ and we started saying, ‘is this going to be another SARS?”

Schools e-mailed parents, explaining they were monitoring the situation and detailing the plans they had put in place, she says. A few days later, as they learned a little more, restrictions began to be placed on who could go on campus.

“There were some school events that got cancelled because they didn’t want parents on the campus. The parents that came in to pick up their kids were instructed to leave immediately and at morning drop of, they couldn’t come in.

“At that point, they were checking the temperature of everyone coming in, and asking people to put hand sanitiser on to come into the school.”

Following the lessons Asia learned during the SARS outbreak, “China got serious much faster this time,” Anna says.

“By January 24, they had shut down a city. Then a couple of days later, they had shut down the entire province of that city and started daily reporting how many cases there were. I think they learned from SARS, and also from other epidemics that have happened.”

Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year break during which millions of Chinese travel, was very early this year, falling on January 25. Anna and family were overseas, and extended their holiday for a few extra days, knowing that the life they returned to in Beijing would be very different.

“But I just wanted to be home,” she says. “This is home for us. I was finding it really hard teaching online from our holiday.”

Once home in Beijing, e-teaching didn’t become instantly easier. For the first three weeks, Anna felt she was doing a lot more work than in a normal school week, but it got easier as her school changed guidelines, she says.

The lack of face-to-face contact with students makes follow-up difficult and time-consuming, she says.

“You message the students, and you don’t hear back so you have to email, and copy the parents. A friend in Shanghai said the amount of work they’re doing just chasing up kids constantly is insane. Every day, they’re following up with kids and it’s so much work.”

As for teaching her daughter, Anna says she has cried “so much” while trying to teach her.

“It is incredibly hard. I hate it. Because it’s hard to give all my attention to work [teaching], and it’s hard to give all my attention to school. She always wants something. She always needs me.

“She’s six, so she has a hard time focusing. At first, she was really excited that mom was going to be her teacher. But the reality set in and there were so many changes those first few weeks, of what e-learning was going to look like for our school, that it got difficult to keep up.

“It’s hard for me to sit down with her because a lot of the times, her Zoom calls are at the same times as I have classes. I can’t sit down with her to do her work when I have to do my own.

She and her husband “gave up” on the assigned lessons but read books with their daughter each day and use math resources they have. Anna hopes to have more time later to catch her daughter up with her proscribed learning. The 6-year-old also gets Chinese practice with the ayi and her friends, and sometimes watches Chinese TV.”

China did not put the capital, Beijing, into lockdown, but enforced social distancing and people were asked to stay home.

“Most people stayed home because they didn’t want to get the virus” Anna says, and the compliance with the request was also partly cultural.

In China, “it’s more about the collective good than the individual good. I think that’s why some of the Western countries have had a harder time with it, because you take care of yourself first, before the collective.

“But in a lot of Asian countries, like China and South Korea, it’s more about the collective and the common good.

People didn’t like staying in their apartments but did, regardless, she says. Another factor was that when the situation became severe in Wuhan, some residents were locked into their apartments, so there was a sense in Beijing of staying in voluntarily rather than being forced to.

Beijingers now feel the worst is over and people can relax, and are going out more, while all wearing masks.

Since our first interview last week, Beijing has announced seniors could return to school from April 27, with a full return taking place grade by grade. There are many new rules and safeguards in place.

“Hours are restricted to 9:30 to 3:30,” Anna says. “Students have to stay one meter apart at all times. Everyone must wear masks at all times. The windows have to stay open.

“Right now I have to start reporting my temperature twice a day through a survey on our school WeChat account. If I do not do 14 consecutive days I will not be allowed to return yet. The school has to be inspected multiple times before they officially allow us to have our students back on campus.

“So it looks like I will be working on campus to teach one class in person, and teaching the rest of my classes from a classroom or office but remotely. There are still a lot of kinks being worked out.”

UPDATE, 18/04/2020

Anna was informed by her school on Friday night that she would be expected on campus on Monday, to teach remotely from the school, and sent training that needed to be completed first over the weekend.

She says she had “kinda been wanting for this anyway” as it had been so hard to work at home with her daughter present and incredibly uncomfortable chairs.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to my school and my ergonomic desk chair, and just being in the environment that makes me want to be a teacher, and not the environment that makes me want to relax and get out in my yard, and start crocheting and knitting.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Designing a Solution – CovidSchooling in Far North New Zealand

Fish lures crafted by a student. Photo provided.

Remote teaching is difficult for all teachers but brings some unique challenges for Greg, a veteran teacher working in New Zealand’s far North. Greg teaches technology subjects, which in New Zealand encompasses metal work, wood work, design and technical drawing.

His first stint as a teacher lasted 12 years, before he worked as a designer for 10 years in the superyacht industry, then three years as a mechanical engineer. He returned to teaching eight years ago.

“As an older man coming back to teaching, I have chosen to teach in the poorer area, where there are more difficult students as they live in poorer communities,” he says.

“Younger teachers have difficulty staying in these positions. Older teachers have more experience with tough kids to draw from.”

The high school in which Greg teaches has an 85% Maori population, New Zealand’s indigenous people. 

“Relationships are paramount to these students,” he says, “if they don’t know you and your tribe, they have less respect for you as a teacher.”

New Zealand is in full lockdown, the country’s Level Four, with the steps up from Level One through Four happening in just a few days, he says. He lives with his wife, who works in the health field, and the couple’s adult children live elsewhere, one in Melbourne, Australia, and the other in Wellington, New Zealand.

The existence of Covid-19 was on the country's radar since the first outbreak in Wuhan, China, and the government had been preparing its response, but the harsh reality struck suddenly, he says.

“The government announced the lockdown including school closures. They also bought the school holidays forward two weeks to align with the start of the lockdown. This was to give the teachers a chance to figure out how to teach their subjects from their homes.”

That’s a tough task to figure out for a subject that is mostly very hands on using many specialised tools and machines in the school’s hard materials room. Greg says the students really enjoy working with the materials and making things, and find satisfaction in the tactile experience. Practical lessons don’t translate well to Google classroom or Zoom, and the ability to make things differs from household to household.

He says no one was ready for the sudden move to full lockdown, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would, “Go early and go hard”.

“The nation has responded and followed the procedures,” he says. 

“This has meant no travel out of your home except to get supplies. Supermarkets are open with a limited number of people allowed in at a time. Suddenly all the roads and streets are quiet. There are daily announcements on the public television channels. The director of health and the prime minister speak daily and keep the nation up to date with pandemic.”

Many students in the area where Greg teaches, and elsewhere in New Zealand, don’t have Internet access so the Ministry of Education is trying to provide connectivity for all students.

“The government is mostly concerned with the wellbeing of the population, so they are delivering food packages to those in need and later they will deliver devices so that students can work from home. Fortunately, couriers are still able to work.”

He has been in contact online with most of his older students, at least those who have Internet, and they have access to his online lessons.

“However, the need for personal contact is important to my students and they rely on personal interactions to make them feel confident in their work.”

Greg says it is still early on in the fight against Covid-19 for those in NZ and there will be many things learned once things settle.

“Teaching will never be the same,” he says.

“I have no idea how to teach students to be builders and engineers from my home. It is possible to teach programming and robotics, however this doesn’t suit the situation here in NZ. We have plenty of creative people who can do this and struggle to make a living due to the geographic location of our beautiful country.

All he can do, he says, is to keep encouraging his students to be creative so they have the desire to become builders and engineers.

“There is a real shortage of skilled workers in NZ and we can’t let it get any worse, so the push is on to find ways of teaching the skills that require feeling and practice.”

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Shelter in Place - CovidSchooling in California, USA

Sheltering in place. Photo provided.

A look at how parents, teachers and students around the world are coping with schooling during a global pandemic.


Elizabeth is a professional singer, household manager and self-acknowledged domestic goddess whose family relocated to California in 2017, after three years in Hong Kong. Her family bubble, under the golden state’s  Shelter in Place rules, comprises of her husband, 13-year-old son, and 12-year-old daughter.

Her family stays in close connection with many friends in Hong Kong so first noticed coronavirus via Asian media.

“I still get SCMP [South China Morning Post] and belong to the [Discovery Bay, Hong Kong] forums so the runs on toilet paper were what we saw, and honestly laughed at, first,” she says.

She had a solo trip planned to visit friends in March but, “no sooner was my ticket issued, it was cancelled”.

Schools in Hong Kong had closed by then and friends had left for “safer pastures” in South Africa and Australia, she says.

It’s surreal to think the disease in in the United States, she says, as no one she knows has tested positive or even been sick.

“I suppose that’s great news, it just makes it more difficult to personally connect with the severity.”

School has been cancelled for the rest of the US academic year, which runs through mid-June, with online learning put in place. It’s working for the most part, she says, but keeping up with communications from each teacher – her son has seven – and keeping assignments straight is sometimes challenging.

Her daughter has one teacher and one online learning platform so managing that is “exponentially easier”.

“I haven’t needed to keep up with her at all.”

Both children are “ok” with the situation but it is hard on them socially, especially for the daughter who is a social butterfly, their mom says.

Elizabeth is not doing anything differently per se, but laundry and dishwashing have doubled overnight.

Her husband is a busy executive with a global entertainment company. "My house has become his home office”, she says,  although she now understands what he is paid for, and is grateful for the continued paycheck. His days are longer than they would be ordinarily but the house is large and each has their own space and room to breathe. They recently turned the spare room into his office space so he can work undisturbed.

While sheltering in place, Elizabeth took part in a collaboration of 50 studio singers from around the US in tribute to the nation’s frontline healthcare workers. Each singer recorded their part from their homes.

“The piece was arranged by a friend of mine in Chicago and among the singers were friends from my days in college and Disney,” she says, referring to her time as a performer for the company.

In the offline world, her kids are doing their own laundry and dishes, keeping their rooms tidy, walking the dogs, taking out the trash, and other chores, and there are not that many day-to-day changes.

“It’s not a lockdown, no curfews, etc. We are free to get outside, go to the market, walk the dog, go to the doctor. We live in a small neighborhood with larger homes, therefore fewer individuals. The weather is very dry and warm and sunny during the day, cool at night. This allows us to keep doors open all day and use the sun and fresh air to our advantage.

“So far, our kids haven’t asked many questions. They’re smart kids and understand what and why.”

There are disappointments, she says, such as her daughter foregoing the lead in her school play and a planned trip to NYC, and her 12th birthday party.

“She understands, though. They know it isn’t forever. I think the biggest thing ‘we’ have learned, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing, is that you CAN completely avoid personal contact but maintain relationships online.

I’m an introvert, to be certain, but personal contact is important. It’ll be nice to hug again.”

Friday, April 10, 2020

Coping in Cambodia - CovidSchooling in Phnom Penh

Kaylene's view over Phnom Penh. Photo provided.

A look at how parents, teachers and students around the world are coping with schooling during a global pandemic.


When I started interviewing Kaylene for this series, Cambodia was not in lockdown. A few days later, on Sunday, April 3, I woke to the news that the country was considering instituting a state of emergency. Two days later, Kaylene explained Prime Minister Hun Sen had not declared a state of emergency but had prohibited large group events, including the Khmer New Year celebrations.

Life for all of us right now is fluid, changing daily or even hourly, it can only be more so for those who are far from home in a foreign country.

Kaylene’s family bubble in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, comprises of herself, her husband, and three children – ages 13, 8 and 6. Dad hails from England and mum / mom from Canada. The couple met in China, where both were teaching. Kaylene is now a Grade 3 teacher at the Canadian International school, where her husband is a full-time substitute teacher.

Having lived in China, Kaylene says they heard about the coronavirus crisis when it first began to unfold publicly in January, and made sure to “keep our ear to the ground as it might approach us quickly.”

Expatriates in Cambodia with pre-existing conditions or those whose age made them more vulnerable headed back to their home countries, Kaylene says, but she and her husband decided to remain in Cambodia as their parents are older, and they did not want to put them at further risk.

Cambodia has a very large Chinese population, she says, but until very recently, there was only one known case.

“Then the director of our school got it!,” she says. “Schools were immediately closed and online learning began. We knew it was coming, and we were prepared. Our kids are fine, and they seem to trust our judgement.”

All three children are being home schooled with the curriculum provided by their teachers but Kaylene says they seem to be receiving more work than when they were in school.

“We told the school we would do a maximum five activities a day, and we focus mainly on maintaining mental and physical health.”

Teachers and families are now working together to find an appropriate balance that allows time to complete activities while still achieving curricular goals, she says.

For her own students, Kaylene is holding daily meetings with mini lessons on remote conferencing service Zoom, and assigning activities on remote learning app Seesaw. She is working on the curriculum for the remainder of the year, and says everything has “intensified”.

“I believe the purpose is to create a sense of normality,” she says. “I think there needs to be more support for families. Not every child has a parent home all day.”

In Cambodia, she says, many families rely on nannies who don’t speak English.

“It’s new territory. We are doing what we can.”

Kaylene says the family is wearing masks whenever they go out, as do most people she sees, but she has not gone out socially in more than a month.

“We are remembering to take time for us, and also to help our children focus on their health – mind and body.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Building Connections - CovidSchooling in Brisbane, Australia

Photo provided

This is part of a series of articles on how people are coping with schooling and education in this global pandemic, and how it has affected students, parents and teachers around the world. 


Carlie is a teacher aide at Brisbane Independent School, in the state capital’s western suburbs, which was attended by her children, now 19 and 15. She says it is an “integral school,” which “focuses on supporting understanding and development of each learner – students, parents and educators – in social, emotional, physical and academic learning, using a developmental model.”

She recalls news about coronavirus popping up before January, when it really came to prominence for her, but it was overshadowed by Australia’s bushfire crisis and its fallout. (Author’s note: Many people in Australia were still struggling to recover after the devastating bushfires in summer, and now have to deal with this new crisis also.)

Since mid-March, Carlie has been working from home and her children studying remotely. She said her school has been incredibly proactive with processes and procedures in development, which have been implemented since the start of the year.

She says there was a mixed reaction to being locked down and staying at home in the general community, but people seem to be taking the situation more seriously now.

“As our processes rolled out at school, we had many school-wide community conversations,” she says. “Fortunately, we have several parents who are in the medical field, able to add weight to the implementation of measures the school was taking. We offered the option of voluntary learning from home from the middle of March, with take home packs collected by parents and our learning at home up and running, while maintaining on site classes for students who remained at school.”

Her school is adding to how its Emergency Home Learning will work, looking towards next term. It plans to maintain academic learning, but not at the expense of social and emotional learning.

“Our focus as we look towards term two is on supporting our children and their families in developing skills and strategies for managing their emotional and physical selves during the current health crisis. With our community, we are looking to understand how our children's learning journeys will shift and what opportunities this presents for them as learners and for us as educators.”

She says it is incredibly distressing to me to hear children, particularly in senior high school so anxious about what this unprecedented situation will mean for their futures.

“My youngest, in grade 10, is no exception. Learning is a lifelong process to engage in. I'm hopeful this current crisis will provoke some much needed shift in state and national education policies, with the focus of education being brought back to the needs of the children as whole people, rather than the current mainstream system which seems to be based on the belief that children are empty vessels for us to pour facts into.”

Carlie says for her and her family, as well as her work, the important lesson from this crisis is about community, connection and going slow.

“Being together. Enjoying each other's company and making the most of what we have got. Watching plants grow. Listening to the birds. Engaging in all of the half-finished projects and hobbies we usually ‘don't have time for’,” she says.

“I have time now, so I'm going to use it well.”

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Grounded - CovidSchooling in Connecticut, USA

Copyright: Elizabeth Prisco

A look at how people are coping with schooling and education in this global pandemic, and how it has affected students, parents and teachers around the world. 


Elizabeth is a stay-at-home mom of two children (ages 4 and 6) in Connecticut, USA. She has previously taught English as a second language in South Korea and is also a talented and witty artist (check out her Quarantine cartoons on her Lizzy in a Tizzy Facebook page). She has also discovered a newfound love of breadmaking.

Her husband is a commercial pilot and the family includes a grumpy dog and 13 chickens. In the past few days, while interviewing Elizabeth for this piece, her husband has taken a three month paid leave of absence from his job, so will be joining the home bubble full-time.

Elizabeth first became aware of Covid-19 and its effects on health and daily life around mid-February, from friends who teach at schools in China. She immediately purchased supplies and extra groceries in preparation for staying at home for an extended time, and asked her husband to buy her a 3M respirator.

It looks intimidating, she says, like something you would wear while cooking meth.

“My husband uses one to clean our fireplace and do woodwork and I wanted something more effective than the ones folks used all too frequently in Asia. That night, the president made an announcement about masks and they were stripped clean from all the shelves. He bought the last one."

Her children are no longer in school and the family is getting acclimatised to a distant learning platform. Her daughter was in pre-kindergarten so the big change for her is no longer having twice-weekly opportunities to be independent and socialise. Her son was in kindergarten and receives a daily schedule and video from his teacher. Elizabeth says they balance her son’s schoolwork with a lot of free time and outside time, and that both children are NOTICEABLY (her stress, not the author’s) less moody and overall very happy to be home.

Mom has had to go cold turkey on daily yoga studio visits, which she previously viewed as her sanity saver. Although she says she is perfectly capable of doing a self-guided, online or video class, she hasn’t yet been in the mood to do so.

“That’s on my to-do list for this week as my patience is very thin if I don’t exercise. I have found that trying to sort all this out at once is just not realistic, so slowly establishing a schedule and boundaries will be best.  

Elizabeth says most of her friends are also stay-at-home mothers of young children who seem stressed by the unknown longevity of the Covid crisis, the lack of breaks and now having to be mom, teacher and spouse 24/7.

Living in a small rural town, people are able to exercise outside while adhering to safe distancing and trips to the grocery store are the only forays allowed. While her husband was still flying, he had to show his ID to cross state lines to commute to New York for his work.

“Being so close to New York City is very scary,” she says. “We have people from NYC coming to our hospitals now and lots of them are also flocking to their vacation homes here – which is spreading the virus.”

As her sanity saver in this new normal, Elizabeth gives herself and her children mandatory quiet time, and finds caring for her chickens and gardening without anybody speaking to her is “very, very refreshing”

“I listen to podcasts. Draw. Sit in silence and look out into the woods of my property. Any activity where nothing is expected from me at that moment.”

Copyright: Elizabeth Prisco

She sees a hidden blessing amidst the panic and fear being felt across the world.

“I have been reminded of what is really important,” she says. “What is a need versus a want. Getting back to the basics of how important time is, being with those you love and the simple things in life.

 “Don’t spend your life worrying in a crisis – spend it believing everything will be okay.”

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Daegu Lessons - CovidSchooling in Daegu, South Korea

Credit: Andrew Salmon

Note: This is the first in a series of articles on how people are coping with schooling and education in this global pandemic, and how it has affected students, parents and teachers around the world. 


Between January 19, when South Korea’s first coronavirus case was confirmed and February 18, 30 cases had been identified and no deaths attributed to the disease. That changed quickly once the country’s Patient 31 tested positive for Corona virus on Feb 18, having twice previously refused to be tested.

A member of the Shincheonji faith, a local flavour of Christianity viewed by many as a cult, Patient 31 had, before testing positive, twice left a hospital in the city of Daegu to attend church services. 
Each service consisted of about 1000 of the faithful, worshipping in close proximity. 

Within 10 days, more than 2000 cases had been confirmed in South Korea, a large number of which were linked to the church and to Patient 31, now dubbed a “Super Spreader”. Health authorities at one stage believed one in five of all those infected in the country could be linked to Patient 31 through other contacts.

Just a few blocks from the Shincheonji church is United States Army Garrison Daegu, where Michelle teaches English and Literature to approximately 90 students at a US Department of Defense middle-high school. She has been teaching for 33 years, the last 28 of those spent overseas, and has been based in South Korea since 1993.

Michelle has two grown daughters, a son-in-law and and five grandchildren. One daughter has left California to reside in Singapore, probably for the next year, while the other is “hunkered down working from home in Kansas.

“If I could,” she says, “I would bring all of them here, with me, to Korea, because it is certainly safer than the US.”

South Korea is seen as one of the countries that appeared to contain the spread of the virus quickly, without the need for a lockdown. The country credits its approach of testing, tracking, tracing, and treating for its success, with tests readily available and either free or at low cost. Tracking those who tested positive and tracing and testing all they may have come in contact with was also a major factor, but relied on a degree of surveillance that would be unwelcome in many Western countries, along with a relatively compliant society where science is respected.

By the last week of February, Michelle says, her school had been shut down.

“There was no time for training or planning,” she says. “Basically, we took our computers, went home, and figured out how to teach online.”

The first week was “holy hell”, she says.

“Twelve to 16 hours a day, seven days a week reorganizing assignments, planning, fielding tons of e-mails from students and parents, online school meetings, trying to get the internet to work properly with our school computers at home, more e-mails, more explanations of directions, grading, printing – which takes me 4-5 hours every time.”

“By the end of the week, teachers and students fell into the new rhythm and not so many panicked e-mails were coming in.

Michelle said while in school, she would meet with students from 160 to 240 minutes per week.

“We could cover a lot of material and discussion in that time and I could make sure they knew exactly what was going on and what the expectations are. That is valuable time that we no longer have.

“A teacher cannot expect students to spend that much time at home on just one class.”

She is very flexible on deadlines and content but says her students respond similarly to how they did in person. Those who did nothing in class do little online also, she says.

“The rest are rock stars. Our students are very adaptable anyway, but in this situation, they are outstanding.”

When not teaching, Michelle now only leaves her apartment to go on base for groceries or to her school to print out papers to grade.

“Online grading is not practical for me because I seriously mark my kids’ assignments for content, grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and it would take me three times as long to do that online,” she says.

“I currently have about 300 assignments to grade sitting in my living room, which is only a bit above normal for a couple of weeks of marking with that number of kids. Almost all of my contact with other people is online or by phone. Most of my classes when we were in school consisted of us reading and discussing literature, together, so that I know the kids understand what they are reading and so that we can discuss a writing in depth. It is very different from math or science where a teacher can make a video to explain something.

“Since our closure time has been extended, now, I am considering other options going into the last quarter of the school year. One event I am going to work on over spring nonbreak (travel was prohibited during Spring Break, meaning a cancelled trip to see family for Michelle) is working with one of my friends in Germany and our AP Lit kids on discussion of a short story in a Google meet. If it happens, it will be the first time in two months where I have met with an entire class and seen my kids.”

Although Michelle lives off base, or “on the economy” in military parlance, she is very much a part of the little bubble that is a United States Forces Korea installation, where those in charge reacted quickly and decisively.

“We have been pretty locked down, so there have only been three cases on our base in two months; those were caught very, very quickly because of immediate protocols the military established when this broke in our community.”

She says that bubble makes her feel much safer, but she is highly anxious about what is going on at home in the US.

“They had months of warning and treated Covid-19 as a joke, until it was too late. That has endangered my family and friends and it makes me very angry and scared for them.

“Within the last two days, I have begun to see reports by friends on Facebook that relatives are seriously ill and the numbers have gone up exponentially there. That did not need to happen.”

She misses her students and tries to make this new way of learning as pain-free for them as possible.

“As a teacher, I have to be flexible and I have to maintain a sense of humor,” Michelle says. “That second one is really, really important. And, on some days, it is the most difficult thing I have to do.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Schooling in the Time of Covid - Intro

Copyright: Elizabeth Prisco

I spend time with two young boys in Melbourne, Australia, and both had their schooling curtailed unexpectedly two weeks ago. The younger attends a school where an administrator tested positive for Coronavirus so all students were sent home on a Friday. The school told parents it planned to reopen for students the following Wednesday but, as it would be the last day of term two days later, I was skeptical of that promise.

Despite the Australian government's determination to keep schools open, Victoria's premier decided to close early for the holidays and students stayed home from the Tuesday  before the scheduled closure. We are now in the first week of the official school holidays but self isolation and social distancing is in effect, with people only supposed to leave their homes for four reasons - shopping for essential supplies, travelling to work or study if it can't be done at home (these are Australia-wide restrictions, not only applicable to Victoria), exercise, and medical or caring reasons. Gatherings of more than two people are also verboten, but with exceptions for members of the same household (obvious) or gatherings essential for work or education.

So no, Australia is not yet in lockdown, nor is Victoria, but I doubt very much that schools will reopen here when the holidays officially end. Despite the lessons that could have been learned from countries that went through this earlier, most schools and teachers were unprepared and I'm sure many educators are currently spending a lot of time planning how best to teach online. The boys I care for are missing their schools, not only because they miss their friends and social life, but because they miss their teachers and lessons. Their teachers have sent messages and some assignments online, and I've been very impressed by the emphasis placed on calmness and caring.

I initially intended to write an article on how teachers and parents have coped / are coping across the world as each country faces the same issues, merging responses from multiple experiences. However, the answers I've had thus far as fascinating enough that I feel each is worthy of its own post.

And hey, what else have you got to do right now but read and eat?

First up (coming soon): Teaching in Daegu - the epicentre of the Covid outbreak in South Korea.