The global pandemic has disrupted the world in many difficult and immeasurable ways since it surfaced a year and a half ago. COVID-19 has pushed all industries to adapt to a new normal of doing things; the education sector wasn’t spared.
Although online learning and such platforms have existed for many years, the pandemic has turned it into a necessity and core part of the daily lives of millions of students and teachers. Countries around the world are at different stages in their battle against the pandemic: some have allowed for in-person schooling to be available, given that everyone present is masked, while others still rely on video conferencing platforms to deliver lessons.
In Ho Chi Minh City, especially with the recent spike in cases and hard lockdown implementations, students at all levels, be it elementary school or college, are currently unable to attend school. To prevent further disruption in the education of Vietnam’s young generation, institutions have had to resort to online schooling until further notice. While some schools operate under a live video conferencing format, others opt for a recorded lesson format, a strategy that allows students to manage their time and education accordingly.
Wally, a 39-year old teacher at a school in Ho Chi Minh City, says that never in his 11 years of teaching — 7 of which were in Vietnam — would he have imagined something like this. With the pre-pandemic model of education mainly being for students and teachers to be together in a physical classroom, neither have sufficient resources and experience in switching to online teaching and learning.
“The biggest challenge I have encountered thus far is trying to keep young students engaged.” With a class of 25 third-grade students, attention span and managing the energy level of the classroom through a screen is no easy task. “Through video calls, it is difficult to make sure all of them are focused; in class, I can see directly if they are actually listening and paying attention.”
This struggle to gain and maintain the attention of students has been a continuous battle for many educators, especially those working with children in younger age groups. In these situations, unfamiliarity with technology, from functions such as muting, adjusting volume, to turning on one’s camera, poses additional challenges.
From the perspective of an educator, another of Wally’s challenges is ensuring he follows the curriculum as set out by the school. For him, it means “a lot of heavy, dry textbook readings.” Hence, on days with longer reading-based activities, where students’ attention span are more likely to wane, “I reward them with an online game, song, or dance.” And in order to “keep an active mind and active body, every 30 minutes or so, we all get up from our computers and walk around, look outside, or stretch,” he says.
Before the new academic year commenced this week, Wally had three main concerns: technology reliability, class size and energy level, and fulfilling curriculum requirements while keeping students engaged. “First, I had to have good internet,” and since many students also started online school within the same week, Wally shared that the connection fell short on some days. “It was a constant battle to find appropriate materials” that not only would suit the subject area of the curriculum, but also activities that students can participate in from home, where many may lack the same resources like that available in the classroom.
To adapt to the challenges of online learning, he shares: “I have always used videos in my classes, now I use them more.” If anything, he says videos are just as effective a form of learning. After all, “Learning the English language and acquiring relevant knowledge is not always about reading,” and videos engage students both with visuals and audio, which in Wally’s experience, aids in maintaining students’ attention.
In spite of the difficulties, Wally recognizes the efforts his students have consistently put forth. “Keep up the good work! We will get through this together,” are the words he wants to say to his students for their dedication. Reflecting on his experiences in the online classroom, no matter how challenging it is at times to make the best out of the new learning setup, Wally feels fulfilled with the work he is doing. “Seeing their happy faces during these difficult times is a real pick me up!”
“And no matter what,” he smiles, “I believe I am getting as much as I am giving.”