Online learning in Hong Kong. Photo: RTHK

Many primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong and Macau have started giving lessons to students over the Internet in the past two weeks after classes were suspended due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Most primary schools tend to deliver homework to pupils without holding online classes. Some secondary schools give about five classes a day with video conference apps such as Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts on weekdays.

The Hong Kong University Graduate Association College (HKUGAC), founded in 2006, was among the first secondary schools that launched online lessons early this month.

On every school day, there are about four to seven lessons on Zoom, each of them lasts for 35 minutes. Almost all lessons including physical and musical education, but not drama, can be taught on the Internet. Teachers keep the students busy with tasks and quizzes.

Interactions

Corina Chen, Principal of HKUGAC, said in a recent interview that the school considered launching online lessons when classes were suspended for six days last November due to protests. Chen said the school spent a week to prepare for the recent launch of its online-learning program.

One 12-year-old student from the college said she enjoyed the online lessons but preferred the actual classes, as they allow her to interact with teachers and classmates directly.

On January 25, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau announced the suspension of classes in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools until February 16. It later extended the suspension period to March 15.

The Ling Liang Church E Wun Secondary School, founded in 2002, launched online lessons last week after one week of preparation. New and difficult concepts are taught in live classes, while straightforward tasks such as answer-checking and revisions can be done by showing videos. Teachers can determine their ways of teaching.

The school’s mathematics teacher So Chi-fung said it took more time to prepare an online lesson than one in a classroom and it was difficult to monitor many students on the Net. But luckily, there were many digital tools that can help track the students’ study progress.

A teacher gives an online lesson. Photo: HKTA The Yuen Yuen Institute No3 Secondary School

Tak Oi Secondary School, a girl’s school established in 1970, also commenced online learning last week. It said up to 250 people could join an online class at the same time, even if some students are staying on the mainland.

Prior to this, Tak Oi teachers organized online tutorials for its form-six students, who will take the examination for a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education this year.

Pros and cons

Online-teaching is also a challenge for many teachers who worry that students may lose focus on the Internet.

Some teachers asked their students to cook a meal with specific ingredients and build a robot out of specific recyclables, in order to keep them engaged. All the results were uploaded to an online gallery and students voted for winners.

Meanwhile, a local teacher said she had been overly worried that her students could not adapt to online study. She said her students have surprisingly become more willing to share their views and answer questions in chatrooms than in classes.

A 15-year-old student at an international school told Asia Times that it was harder to learn languages online due to unclear pronunciation over a video conference, especially when internet signals were bad. But an 11-year-old boy said he was able to learn maths faster online.

Video conferencing

Many teachers said they are using Zoom, which allows up to 100 people to meet online within 40 minutes for free. A user is charged a monthly fee of US$19.99 to hold a long meeting with 300 participants.

Skype, meanwhile, has a call duration limit of 110 minutes and is free of charge for online meetings with up to 20 people. Skype for Business, which costs US$2 per user each month, allows a user to add up to 250 people to online meetings.

Google Hangouts Meet also supports video conferencing up to 250 people with an Enterprise package that costs US$25 per month. However, it may not be available for those on the mainland, where Google is banned.

Between February 7 and 12, the International Social Service’s Hong Kong Branch interviewed 3,000 parents, whose students had to travel to Hong Kong on weekdays but are currently staying in Shenzhen due to the epidemic, about their views on school suspension.

A schoolboy with an iPad. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Paterm, Flickr

About 56% of the surveyed parents said they didn’t want their children to be quarantined for 14 days when they come back to Hong Kong for study in mid-March. About 64% of them said they were worried about negative comments about their children, who may have to stay in Shenzhen when Hong Kong classmates return to their seats on March 16.

In 2000, Hong Kong Education City, a group wholly-owned by the government, was set up to enable better adaptation to change curriculum initiatives through technology. It recently uploaded a series of online learning resources for local primary and secondary school students.

Parents’ workloads

On January 30, Macau’s Education and Youth Affairs Bureau announced that all schools would stay closed until further notice. Some secondary schools in Macau launched online lessons last week and used Google Classroom to deliver homework.

However, some parents complained that they had to spend extra time to guide their children to finish their homework as most teachers had failed to closely monitor their students’ study progress during online classes.

Xu Zhiwei, president of the Chinese Youth Advancement Association, said the Macau government should consider building a citywide online learning platform with video conferencing function. Xu said without such a platform, many local schools have passed on class duties on to parents at home.

On Monday, primary and secondary schools in key Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, launched online-learning programs. Some schools will start these programs on March 2.

Local governments can determine the number of classes per day in schools but they should consider students’ health as well, China’s Ministry of Health said.