In 2020, when social distancing measures were imposed for the first time in Vietnam after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only were the economic sectors affected, but the education sector also faced enormous pressures to meet the government’s directions, and reform teaching methods in time. Since COVID-19 has reemerged in 2021, the education sector is again challenged to promptly adapt to prevent further disruption in children’s learning needs.
Teachers at schools supported by saigonchildren’s scholarships in Tra Vinh and Dong Nai have shared stories to us about the challenges they’ve been met with, as well as proposed plans to respond accordingly to social distancing measures.
Overcoming the challenges of social distancing
“When social distancing measures were in place, the school continued to teach online and send work home for students on online teaching platforms or social media groups. Following guidance at all levels, the school devised plans adaptable to different possible scenarios in case of another outbreak with the motto, “stop going to school, but don’t stop learning”, and instructed teachers to take advantage of all means and forms of teaching to assign work for students studying at home in accordance to specific needs and new developments.” – Huynh Van Tuy, 12th-grade Geography teacher of Tieu Can High School.
However, during the early stages of social distancing measures, notifying the students’ families on COVID-19 precaution measures and preparations for online education was the most challenging. In-person meetings with parents and the percentage of parents with phones were limited. At Cau Quan A primary school, up to 20% of parents do not own a phone, making it difficult to promptly communicate information. At Tan Hoa B primary school, only 30% of students, and at Nguyen Huu Canh secondary school in Dong Nai, only 40% of students, had the necessary tools required for online education. Meanwhile, high school students interact better with their teachers, 50% of Tieu Can High school students can meet the new form of learning.
“The organizational aspects to implement online education are also unfavorable, especially for primary school students. The percentage of students who own a computer or smartphone is extremely low, with an average of around 10 out of 35 students per class. As a result, when the schools tried to implement online classes, a majority of students were unable to attend – making it difficult for students to learn and complete activities. Teachers themselves also faced obstacles as the majority of them are only familiar with face-to-face teaching.” – Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lan, principal of Cau Quan A primary school shared
When teaching online, one difficulty for teachers is scheduling time. Each student lives in different locations, with different familial circumstances, and with some students having to accompany their parents to work as there is no one to look after them at home. The teachers usually schedule the classes at night, but some have to arrange multiple time frames to teach different groups of students. In one case, only 3 students were unable to attend the scheduled time, but the teacher had to schedule 3 extra time slots in order to make up for students who missed the class.
Nguyen Hoang Phuong, principal of Tan Hoa B primary school, shares a student’s situation: “His family is in difficult circumstances and cannot meet his educational needs. He is also unable to learn himself as he’s a slow learner, needing extra help from teachers and peers. He does not have the means to study online. His whole family does not own a phone, or even have a contact number, so how can he study online?”
Students who have weaker learning abilities cannot self-study, and their families don’t have the means for online education nor the knowledge to support their learning themselves; the only way to continue their education and maintain knowledge is to support them with a TV so they can watch educational programs. Additionally, the most effective way to support students in difficult circumstances without the necessary tools for online education is for teachers to print out the exercises, bring them to the child’s home, and pick it up after to mark the next day. The homeroom teacher at Tan Hoa B primary school also actively coordinates with parents, exchanging and formulating plans on how parents can guide their child to study at home.
Le Chi Thanh, a chemistry teacher at Nguyen Huu Canh secondary school in Dong Nai, shares the methods of support for students in disadvantaged circumstances: “At our school, there is a 6th-grade student from ChơRo ethnic group. His family has no internet access nor smartphones for online learning, so his teacher went directly to his house to give him the course outline and activities for him to complete at home – but when he arrived, no one was home, and the second time was the same. So, the teacher had to ask a classmate who lived nearby to pass the work on for him. After completing his work, he had to ask his classmate to take a photo of his work and send it via Zalo to the teacher.”
Constantly adapting to respond
If the pandemic situation worsens in the nearby future, it is imperative for schools to implement online education, as well as print work for students without the necessary tools for online learning. In order to prevent further disruption of students’ learning, teachers at Cau Quan A primary school are willing to form small learning groups of 4-5 students living in the same area. The students will convene in a location convenient for everyone, and the teacher will come to support their learning. However, they still must comply with regulations from the Ministry of Health.
Nguyen Hoang Phuong, principal of Tan Hoa B primary school further shares: “Right now, the school will continue to communicate pandemic precaution measures and devise plans for online education. The school will also consult with the government and propose plans to saigonchildren to support students in disadvantaged circumstances.”
Currently, teachers also need further training in certain skills necessary for online education such as preparing for online lessons, presenting with PowerPoint, becoming familiar with information technology applications (e.g. creating online classrooms, zoom meetings, etc.). Additionally, teachers need to be further advised on online teaching software and supported with the additional hardware equipment.
Online education is a new form of teaching and learning, thus, teachers will initially be bewildered as well as unequipped with necessary tools. Improving skills in online teaching will not only support the teachers in the continuation of education during social distancing periods but also their understanding of parental and student concerns for timely response and support. Understanding the method and tools will aid teachers in delivering lessons smoothly, wasting less time on technical issues, and allowing them to spend more time supporting students in disadvantaged situations.
With the unpredictable development of the recent Covid-19 emergence in 2021, it is indeterminate whether students will be able to return to face-to-face classrooms or not. But the development of online teaching skills for teachers is a long-term benefit, not only during pandemics, but also during natural disasters, or to reach a wider number of students. Training online teaching skills will boost the confidence of teachers and encourage them to be more proactive in teaching.