Teachers, students struggle to connect as coronavirus drives online education

By Long Nguyen   March 5, 2020 | 04:44 pm PT
Teachers, students struggle to connect as coronavirus drives online education
A student in Hanoi tries to access her online classroom. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Anh.
As educators turn lemon into lemonade by offering online lessons amid the Covid-19 outbreak, issues over connectivity loom large.

It is Monday, but Nguyen Minh Anh does not attend school in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, stand in front of a flagpole and sing the national anthem as usual. After breakfast at home, in her pajamas, she sits down in front of a laptop borrowed from her elder brother, puts on headphones and watches her teacher present a Math lesson.

Around 15 minutes later the teacher’s voice drops out due to a slow Internet connection. During the one-hour lesson, she gets up for a snack more than five times, mostly waiting for her lesson to recommence.

As schools and universities remain closed for more than a month due to Covid-19, many educational institutions have resorted to online classes via their own portals or third-party software.

Infrastructure, teachers and students are all ill-equipped for this new type of lessons, with unstable connectivity providing one of the largest obstacles.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Ha in Hanoi’s Long Bien District could not ‘attend’ her English class in February to her slow Internet at home.

The family had to register for a more expensive Internet package to help their 9-year-old daughter, according to Tran Thuy Chi, Ha’s mother.

Nguyen Anh, a student at the school for Gifted Students of Vietnam National University, said it cost him and his classmates several attempts to successfully connect to their online lessons, with support from parents.

The new type of classroom leaves many children feeling bored, as many lack self-discipline and are naturally distracted.

"Sitting next to and conversing with my friends is better. I often have a question, but have to wait until the end of the lesson to ask, and sometimes I forgot," said Ha, primary student.

Adding that watching YouTube was more fun, the girl confessed she had used the video streaming app during her lessons.

Some parents are not entirely confident about online classrooms and leaving their children alone without any care.

Tran Hoang Lan, worrying that her daughter may use the laptop for fun instead of school work, had to ask her mother to keep a watchful eye on Minh Anh while the girl was online.

"She does not know the password to the laptop. My mom uses her fingerprint to log in and gives her one hour for her class every morning," Lan added.

The effectiveness of remote learning is still in question, especially as schools and English centers like ILA, Apollo, Ivy Prep, etc. provide paid online classes.

Thanh Van in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District, paying 60 percent of the regular fee for her daughter to attend online classes operated by an English center, said spending money like this is "such a waste" when her daughter mostly listens to her teacher instead of interacting as she does in regular classrooms.

Others are concerned their children’s health may be affected by overuse of electronic devices.

"Children are now looking at screens or use tablets for hours, which is super unhealthy," according to Nguyen Thi Minh Hang, a mother in Ba Dinh District.

She spends 45 minutes sitting with her son during his online English lessons every evening.

Teachers’ issues

The new type of learning has posed challenges when it comes to class preparation and management.

For teachers stuck in traditional classrooms for years, lack of the necessary skills for online lesson planning is a huge obstacle.

"I can condense 45 minutes of lesson content into 20 minutes online," said Nguyen Tra My, and English teacher in Hanoi. She explained the lack of interaction with children shortens her teaching time in videos.

Meanwhile, educational institutions use various platforms to conduct online lessons, which takes teachers a significant amount of time to master.

For Tran Thanh Mai, lecturer at a university in Saigon’s District 10, it is difficult to ascertain if students understand her online lessons.

"For traditional classes, I can make sure students take notes because I can see them and give feedback, but this is not possible online."

While many college-goers have resumed their studies, younger students in Hanoi are being allowed to stay home until March 8 as the city is deemed to be at some risk infection with many people from South Korea, the worst-hit country by Covid-19 epidemic outside mainland China, arriving in the past days.

Meanwhile, HCMC has decided to keep 12th-grade students away from school until March 8 and younger students until March 15.

Vietnam has recorded no new infections since February 13, with the last of its 16 infections discharged from hospital on February 26.

In the meantime, online classes provide a Hobson’s choice to teachers and students who do not want to neglect their studies and rid themselves of boredom after a long break.

"There is a rule in class that students have to keep quiet once the teacher or another student speaks. Our dog kept barking while Minh Anh was online last week, making it hard to hear as everyone burst out laughing," Lan recalled.

VnExpress Hope Foundation's program "Computers for Students" aims to provide tablets, laptops and computers for 3,300 students in circumstances, helping them with access to online education. For more information, kindly refer to this link.

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