Online learning from home needs structure too

Online education is more than uploading resources onto a shared server, Apia International School board chair suggests, as the nation grapples with how to teach under intense lockdown conditions with no end in sight.

Last week, all schools shut down and families have been expected to stay home and limit physical gatherings as Samoa works to test, contain and eliminate any spread of COVID-19, a global pandemic that has already killed more than 44,000 people around the world in three months.

For now, there are no confirmed cases in Samoa. The Ministry of Health reports just 26 people have been tested, with some swap tests awaiting transport to a laboratory overseas capable of conducting the tests. 

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Education and Culture made available its schedules and resources for early childhood education, primary and secondary schools. 

TV1 and an especially dedicated Government channel are broadcasting early childhood and primary education programmes. Radio 2AP will also be used to deliver classes.

Fiona Ey, Board Chair and co-founder of the Apia International School (A.I.S.) said in the short-term, any classes for children in lockdown conditions at home is important.

But transitioning to online education needs to be about more than transmitting information over the internet or television, she said.

“There are pedagogical techniques that make online teaching effective…. it has come a long way.”

A.I.S., only in its second year, has three students. Two are enrolled in online schools based in Australia and one in the United States of America.

Ms. Ey said the students have been able to transition to learning from home fairly seamlessly, with teaching undisrupted even as the Australian and American situations change daily.

Though actually being at home instead of being in the classroom is hard, the practice of learning online will help the students get through this period, she said. 

“[Online education] requires the student to take more responsibility for their learning and to be more engaged,” she said. 

“You can’t simply listen to what the teacher has told you and repeat it back. It’s not about rote learning, it’s about thinking, writing, analysis… it’s a modern way of teaching.”

But for Samoan students and parents thrown in the deep end, Ms. Ey has some advice:

“Having a timetable, having balance between screen-time and other time, going outside, getting exercise, doing something creative… having that structure in the day is really important. 

“To parents who are adjusting to their children studying online: don’t freak out. It takes a little bit of time to adjust but you can make it work. 

“Students are still learning, and it might take them some time to adjust but keep persevering, keep some kind of structure in the day. Encourage them, and enjoy it because you can really learn a lot from the experience. 

In the more contemporary online learning of the A.I.S. and its peers around the world, online education includes students participating in a range of activities, from interactive online sessions to recording themselves referring to the class material for their teacher to assess.

Because they don’t necessarily have classmates around them to turn to for help, students have to be ready to ask their teachers and parents for support whenever they need it.

Around the world, schools are closed to keep children and families at home and teachers are working to deliver classes over the internet, in some cases conduction lessons over online video calling websites.

Ms. Ey said the journey of online education has been a long one, from deliveries of CD-ROMs with lectures and uploaded documents for reading, to a significantly more interactive structure. But it took time to get there, she said.

“It’s not a two dimensional or static interface,” Ms. Ey explained. “Some are more like a virtual classroom, and methodology for assessment is different as well. Instead of handwriting essays or filing out essays you are using different programmes, making presentations, typing reports.

“Overtime [it] has become more refined and developed, and uses different techniques and software to make it a deeper more engaged kind of learning.” 

Teachers too have to adapt to a different mode of teaching. It is a big shift for the profession everywhere, and it is clear they are trying hard to maintain their student’s education, Ms. Ey said. 

This period of time also requires of parents to be more involved in their children’s education, especially now that their lounges, kitchen tables and bedrooms have become classrooms.

There are online platforms for parents to use to communicate with teachers too if they need help. In lieu of the teacher’s presence during the day, parents need to help children maintain structure in their day, and stay focused when it is lesson time. 

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