Covid-19 and the challenges of remote teaching in China

by Guest Blogger, 24 March 2020
Online learner

Dr Julia Yu, Cambridge Assessment International’s Regional Professional Development Manager for East Asia, shares how the novel coronavirus has impacted on teaching and learning in China.

Since the onset of the new coronavirus, Covid-19, in December last year, nearly every aspect of daily life in China has changed. 

On 17 February, the internet crashed in China due to the sudden increase of users who were simultaneously logging in.

One unexpected impact of the outbreak is the surge in e-learning nationwide almost overnight. In mid-February 2020, when term was due to restart after the New Year Holiday, all schools were declared closed by the government and many decided to start teaching online. 

Suddenly, several hundred million students started taking classes via web platforms. On 17 February, the internet crashed in China due to the sudden increase of users who were simultaneously logging in.

How schools are teaching online

Schools are using different formats: some provide mini-videos, some offer online consultation time, some do live streaming, and some do a combination of some or all of them! The quality varies enormously, but most online teaching has one thing in common: teachers had little experience or training before they started. This is partly because of lack of resources and time, but partly also because they never imagined this scenario would happen. So, they are learning ‘on the job’. 

Take one of my daughter’s teachers for instance: the teacher, who is British, was abroad when schools were closed down and he was asked to deliver his first live streaming class. When he tried to use the platform, he found it was all in Chinese, which he doesn’t understand. So during his first class, he pressed the wrong buttons and left the class twice without being aware! Thankfully, he has improved a lot since then! 

Challenges of remote teaching

There are also challenges for different syllabuses. PE and music classes are more frustrating to teach remotely than languages or mathematics for instance! Practicals for science classes are almost impossible. 

One frustration for teachers is the difficulty in assessing student understanding during classes. When asked questions, some students remain silent, and the teacher cannot tell if they are still engaged. 

Online learning also brings challenges for students and their parents too, especially with the younger learners. Younger children often lack the skills needed for learning purely online. They are less able to use digital devices or to follow teachers’ directions and they don’t always have the self-discipline to keep away from distractions. With my daughter who is in primary year 2, even though she takes part remotely in every class, it is no guarantee that she is learning as much as she would in school. 

Adapting to change and learning fast 

It is a difficult time, but every effort that our schools, teachers, students and parents make builds up our confidence in winning the battle against it.

The virus caught everyone unprepared. It is a difficult time, but every effort that our schools, teachers, students and parents make builds up our confidence in winning the battle against it. 

Teachers and schools are learning quickly how to make their online teaching more effective. Once they are familiar with the function and tools of the platforms, they get better at using features such as online ‘hand-raising’ or online quizzes. 

Teachers from my daughter’s school, for example, review their online classes every week to see what can be improved. They put all documents and mini videos in one folder for each day so that parents can follow easily. Many schools share their online teaching tips via social media for teachers to learn from each other. 

Looking ahead, many schools have started to consider integrating educational technology in their curriculum, rather than as a fall-back solution. Moreover, teachers are finding that technology has its advantages in ways which they hadn’t realised before, such as allowing for differentiated learning and flipped classrooms. 

Cambridge resources 

To cater for the needs of teachers, Cambridge Assessment has acted quickly to design a series of teacher professional development activities. 

The first two webinars developed by the professional development team on how to teach online were delivered on 19 and 21 February, one in Chinese and one in English. With instruction from Professor Jiao Jianli from South China Normal University, they attracted an audience of 40,000 altogether. 

On 5 March, the professional development team organised a best practice sharing live webinar that showcased the application of MOODLE and a selection of live streaming tools. Another online webinar focusing on online course design will be delivered later in March. 

Cambridge Assessment International has also arranged extra online training for teachers and provided additional online resources to support teachers and learners.

What have been your experiences of remote teaching and online learning? What tips would you share with those having to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning?

Dr Julia Yu has a PhD in Educational Psychology, and an MSc in E-learning. She is Cambridge International’s Regional Professional Development Manager for East Asia. A former lecturer in a Chinese higher education institute, Julia is very passionate about education, with a special interest in exploring innovative ways to enhance teaching and learning.


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