07 March 2020
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, said school closings to stop the spread of the new coronavirus affected more than 290 million students around the world.
Audrey Azoulay is UNESCO's Director-General. She warned that "the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.
Just weeks earlier, China was the only country requiring schools to close. Now, students are out of school in Japan, Iran, North Korea, Italy, Lebanon and Mongolia. Schools in parts of Vietnam, Thailand, France, Germany, South Korea and the United States have also been closed.
As of March 4, the organization said 22 countries have announced or started school closings to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
UNESCO, Azoulay said, is "working with countries to assure the continuity of learning for all." And the organization will call an emergency meeting of education ministers on March 10 to share ideas on how to continue learning and make sure all children are included in the plans.
The organization is helping countries affected by the closings to set up large-scale distance learning programs. It suggests free software that the schools and teachers can use to reach learners.
However, school closings can cause several problems. The biggest one is less time spent learning. Another is that parents need to divide their time between work and childcare and may lose income. Families who are already struggling cannot always help their children with home learning as can those who have a better economic situation.
Teaching online in China
In China, teachers came back to work after the Lunar New Year holiday to learn they would have to teach online. For some, it was the first time they had to do that.
Mr. Li in Chengdu teaches English to public high school students. He said he is teaching "mostly grammar or vocabulary, because it's not convenient for students to read, because some of them have a computer; some of them just have phones."
Li added that some students had gone to homes in the countryside without their textbooks. He said the local school district coached teachers on how to use software for online teaching. They asked teachers not to introduce new material they had planned for the school term.
"At the beginning, the students seemed quite interested," he said; "Recently I get the data – so, it's not quite good - and some of them just stay in the class for a few minutes and some students, they miss the classes."
Students can ask questions when they are online but, Li said, they do not because they are afraid to speak. In a classroom, he can pull out a student to speak privately or provide extra instruction, but that is not always easy to do online.
Li said that he has learned to cherish in-school communication with students and will provide more chances to do that when they return. Until they do, Li said, "It's a challenge for them to become more independent."
Liam Duffy, a university professor in Wenzhou, has also been teaching online for two weeks. His students use the VoiceThread app on Blackboard to upload videos instead of giving presentations in class.
Duffy said, "Even somebody who was shy and might not have spoken up in class is going to get their chance. They have to kind of be ‘out there' on a platform. A quiet student wouldn't even be facing their classmates, and now they are facing the whole class."
He observed that "it's the same deal as on campus in some ways." One student just made a recommendation about another teacher at the university. "So there is still that sort of campus community."
I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.
Jill Robbins reported this story for Learning English based on interviews and information from UNESCO. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
global – adj. involving the entire world
scale – n. the size or level of something especially in comparison to something else
disrupt – v. to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way
unparalleled – adj. never seen or experienced before
prolong – v. to make (something) last or continue for a longer time
introduce – v. to present (something) for discussion or consideration
cherish – v. to treat with affection and tenderness; hold dear.
challenge – n. a difficult task or problem; something that is hard to do