Studying from home is not a choice for Vietnamese students since schools and teachers do not know how to run online courses.
Dang Huong Giang
My younger sister is a fifth grader.For several weeks now, she has been receiving a mountain of homework from her teacher every day.
My sister had to finish her homework, hand it in and wait until she got home from school for the teacher to correct it all.
She has been following this routine for three weeks now after authorities decided to extend the Lunar New Year break for students to February 2 to avoid the spread of the respiratory illness Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus.
At first the extension was for a week, and then an extra week was added before it was decided that students will stay home until the end of this month.
At first, my mother wholeheartedly agreed to the extra leave.
“Just leave the kids at home for another month,” she said.No need to worry about knowledge gaps.Her teacher sends me homework every day and I have already signed up for some online packages for her."
During the first week of the holiday extension, my little sister was over the moon since she did not have to go back to school.
A week later, she is still excited about staying at home but now has to do her homework via an online platform.Every morning at nine, her teacher sends my mother "a mountain of homework," as my sister described, and she had to do her homework all day.
Only three days into an online course designed by her school, my sister started to feel bored.
"Our teachers give us assignments on the lessons we've learned," She told me.
The course does not allow them to study online.There is no video for the lecture, live or recorded, no homework system, no assessment, and no tools or interactions to spark students' interest in learning.
And these are often the strengths of online learning.
I'm not too excited about online courses these days."If only the teacher sent the kids some videos of physical exercises that might be helpful," she said with a sigh.
My cousin's name is Hue, with two children studying at a private primary school.
She and her husband affirmed that education is extremely important, the health of the children is a top priority, so leaving them at home is the best choice.
However, the couple could not stay at home to take care of two children, and my parents, aunt and uncle had to travel from the countryside to the city to take care of them.
Every day my aunt and uncle urge them both to go to the school website and do their homework.The two seniors had almost no tech skills, and that was the best they could do for the kids.
The argument my mother and cousin used to justify leaving their children at home was similar to what millions of other parents are doing: Safety first.
Like Ms. Hue, my mother and probably many other parents also have high expectations for schools, where they believe they are primarily responsible for student learning.
As long as schools can give their children some homework, parents will breathe a sigh of relief.
However, the problem is: we do not have the technological infrastructure to properly connect all components of the education system.
The most effective solution to solve all today's educational problems is online teaching.Students can join classes at home, discuss with friends through interactive tools, complete their assignments and wait for teacher feedback.This is the ideal educational scenario, but only for developed countries.
Primary students in Ben Tre Province in southern Vietnam clean their hands on February 7, 2020.The province was one of the few schools that allowed students to go to school amid the Covid-19 outbreak, before deciding to keep all children at home from February 8.Photo: VnExpress / Hoang Nam.
In Vietnam, for schools and teachers, preparing lesson plans for online classes is like a sprint which is beyond their capability.
Traditional lesson planning requires a lot of effort and now teachers must design lessons to fit online classes along with activities that make lessons interactive with students and ensure all they all meet the standards set for online courses.
Vietnamese teachers are not well equipped to make that transition.
An effective online teaching model doesn't mean just changing locations from school to home and watching each other on screens, not face to face.It needs a seamless technology and software platform to manage progress and a framework for designing tests and evaluating results.And more importantly, the source of knowledge must be diverse, in-depth but appropriate for the age of the students.
Technology is just a tool, but to use it for teaching, teachers need to be properly trained.
But now teachers are not prepared for online teaching as all these factors cannot become an instant reality, unlike an announcement that students should stay home.
Online teaching has become the new normal worldwide, and its effectiveness has been recognized for more than three decades.
In Vietnam, when I graduated from one of the top pedagogical universities three years ago, the educational technology available was nil.
Our close relationship with technology in this modern age is undeniable, and so instead of arguing or questioning its value and impact, I think we should continue continuity and prepare teachers for a technology ecosystem because in the near future online teaching will replace all educational methods we have known.
Now that February is coming to an end, people continue to argue about whether students should return to school and how long the next break should last as the epidemic shows no sign of going away.
In the midst of that debate, I had an uneasy feeling about the reactivity and responsiveness of the education system.
School is an important link in society.Every school decision has an impact on families and, ultimately, society.When there is no cooperative or consistent plan for the absence, parents have no choice but to come up with their own plan.
This pandemic is an opportunity for us to take a serious look at the education system and plan for all possible future scenarios.
It needs more than urging people to improve their immune systems so they can be pandemic-ready.The whole system needs to strengthen its immune system to be able to cope with the unstoppable changes in an era where people are becoming more and more vulnerable.
*Dang Huong Giang holds an MA degree in science education.The opinions expressed here are her own.
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