When the new COVID-19 outbreak forced schools in Ho Chi Minh City to suspend classes a full week before the Tết holiday, many foreign teachers already knew what's going to happen next: further delay of school reopening.
HCMC’s People’s Committee announced on Sunday that the city’s 1.7 million students need to stay at home until February 28. As the country tightens movement restrictions to prevent possible coronavirus spread, students are mandated to remain in their homes and avoid going out without protective masks.
But for Ian Jacob, an English teacher at Go Vap Secondary School, extended school closures means no work. And since his school does not conduct online classes, it also means no salary. Lucky for Ian, his other teaching gig at a language center, helps put food on the table and pay for apartment bills.
This is the second time schools have been closed for weeks due to COVID-19, with the first school closure in April serving as “training ground for teachers and students”, says Ian. But even with the financial difficulties it entails, he believes closing schools is the best way to protect both teachers and students.
“The delay of the conduct of classes in actual classrooms is for the benefit of everyone. Vietnam has definitely learned its lessons from the past months when COVID-19 has continuously disrupted our normal lives with its sudden outbreaks. Its immediate response is just laudable.”
“Right now, we may not have classes yet, that means no work, no pay for most of the teachers, but the likes of me believe it's for the common good, that we will all be satisfied with the outcome at the end of the day.”
Following government health protocols is the least people can do in these trying times, he continues.
Once in-person classes resume on February 28, students and teachers will have to make health declarations, and schools have to provide city authorities with information about those who had come into contact with COVID-19 patients.
Aside from Ho Chi Minh City students, more than two million students in Hanoi and over 200,000 students in Hai Duong are also ordered to stay at home until February 28. Local governments asked schools to support students who lack the resources to study online by allowing lessons to be printed out or having them sent to students via social media.
Back to online classrooms
The Department of Education and Training in Ho Chi Minh City already assigned school principals to formulate strategic plans for virtual learning, with focus on Mathematics, Literature and foreign languages for first, second and third graders. For fourth and fifth grade students, teachers are asked to pay attention to Mathematics, Literature, foreign languages, Science, History and Geography.
Claude, who teaches Reading and History to Grades 7 to 12 students in a private school, says holding online classes comes with extreme challenges.
Unstable internet connection causes inconvenience to both students and teachers, and not knowing if students are really listening or are actually “sleeping or eating” keeps educators from delivering a lesson they worked so hard to prepare. But teachers need to be “adaptive and innovative”, says Claude.
“Given the current situation, we’re really left with no choice but to embrace this new normal in teaching as we cannot compromise the health and safety of both students and teachers. I believe that the government is implementing this to prevent the spread of the virus.”
The limited interaction in online classrooms may create a gap in the long run, not just between students and teachers, but among students as well. While in the virtual classroom - via Zoom, Teams or Google Classroom - students are not required to turn their cameras on, making it difficult for educators to see if students are really in front of their laptops or mobile devices, listening attentively.
But knowing that the current online education setup also provides an avenue for teachers to learn new skills, Claude says he’s more than willing to embrace the new normal.