Online Teaching: Big Drama on Day One

Here we are into the initial days of the 2020 spring semester during the Covid-19 virus outbreak. As my colleagues, students and I are stuck across the globe, we are diligently trying to follow the directives of our higher ups to comply with the government’s solution: e-classes over Wechat. Imagine trying to teach courses over Facebook messenger, with vague directions given at the last minute and no resources! Fun. 

99 Problems 

Mind you, homeschooling isn’t a thing in China. Actually, it’s officially illegal unless the child is foreign. Teachers in my teeny international department were initially informed that the government forbids us to hold classes online, that we were not to introduce any new material and to provide thirty minutes of homework. No problem. One week of lesson plans suddenly morphed into two. Still ok. We were ready to go. 

Day one of the semester comes around. All the patriotic fanfare and hype is in full swing on my feed. Pictures of children in pjs saluting their computer screens, lots of messages of encouragement under the red flag. Everything seemed peachy.

Like a slap to the face, in comes alerts about an emergency board meeting from a colleague. It turns out parents from another department at my school complained to the government that our school was assigning too much homework. What?! This is typical of Chinese confrontations – rather than just talking to the person you have an issue with, oftentimes people will just go directly to the boss to complain- I have another story about that for another day – in this case, however, it’s the big boss the parents chose to complain to. 

Eye exercises at my old primary school.

These parents asserted that the children were given too much to do and were having too much screen time. This is an understandable worry for a nation obsessed with eye-health – cue the mandatory daily eye-massage music that interrupts classes about four times a day. I once complained that these eye massages were not scientifically proven to help and was scolded as they’re government mandated. Even so, you’d assume parents would be happy to have their kids busy learning again during this pandemic! There are many layers of underlying grievances to this complaint, however.

Papa Don’t Preach

The weight of the world.
PC: Weibo

It’s fairly certain that this complaint goes beyond wanting what’s best for the children to what’s easiest for the parents. The hardest (and scariest) part for me about switching from teaching public to private school last semester in China is the amount of power parents hold because they pay an obscene amount in tuition. 

It’s common knowledge that a lot of parents in China have children because of expectations and not because they want them. My school essentially functions as a higher end boarding school for about a third of our students with famous parents, and too often, I hear stories of neglect and human affection being bought off. Therefore, forcing some parents to be home with students for this extended period and asking parents to make sure kids do their homework must be driving some crazy when they’re used to students being away from home at least five days out of the week. In addition, many parents themselves have no choice but to work from home now as the holiday has ended.

There’s loads of stories of parents having to unhappily juggle their extended families at home or of family members having to interact with each other beyond holiday festivities. 

On the other hand, I do sympathize with the many families who went to their ancestral villages for Chinese New Years and found themselves stuck in quarantine in the middle of rural nowhere. One story has a woman climbing a mountain with her laptop just to find a signal. Those poor souls are lucky to have wifi, let alone any sort of computer access (I’ve learned two of my students are sadly without computers at the moment).

She had to wake up extra early to beat her neighbors for this premium spot.

Fallout and long term effects?

As it currently stands, teachers in that department that had the complaint can no longer assign power points or pdfs, just worksheets that kids may or may not do. How they’ll assign worksheets not on pdfs is going to be interesting as Word messes up with Wechat. Moreover, the teachers  aren’t allowed to even give a unified schedule or set time for kids to learn, instead students are to “enjoy themselves and learn on their own time.” The kicker: students are not even allowed to check in or take photos of their homework! What tomfoolery is this?! 

My students (who could get to a computer) had fun creating a power point of their break. Most were bored at home, but I learned some were lucky enough to fly to Japan or Europe for fun with their families.

Repercussions are hitting my department slowly. Thank goodness I’m not a head teacher who has to deal with parents on the daily. I do still have to design lesson plans for the third week (and maybe fourth, who knows right now), but we can only strongly encourage kids to look at/do the assignments. I’m now being told “less is more,” ie “do anything to prevent parents complaining further.” 

It’s also too early to say how this “homeschooling” will affect China’s testing for the zhongkao and gaokao – the most important dates of the year in which students’ futures reside on their test scores. This doesn’t affect my students as we’re gearing them to escape *ahem* study overseas for the rest of their educational careers, but it is something to watch out for on the whole within the coming months. 

At least I still have a job though. The worst place to work during this pandemic, in terms of teaching, seems to be the training centers. My opinions on them do run on the snarky side most times, as many training centers tend to lie about where their teachers are from to get parents to pay a premium for after school tutoring (think illegal Ukrainians posing as Canadians). Teachers at training centers have no protections from the government, and thus no guaranteed pay. At least I still have work and a legal visa. Imagine trying to pay rent without being able to work because you are in China on a student or tourist visa, or worst case having your boss hold your passport!  Many training center staff are essentially SOL until this pandemic blows over.

Since when does the Chinese education system not want to give students any pressure?! Oh, the irony.

The education bureau can take away any semblance of deadlines or class structure, even any educational responsibility on the part of the families, but who really suffers here? Students will be behind schedule if we’re not allowed to introduce new material. How can teachers even be sure students understand their current assignments if teachers are not even allowed to see their work? What is the point of asking us teachers to create/assign anything if it’s all optional? Why even say it’s back to school time? Why not just extend the holiday? 

On a cuter note, the animal pics keep on coming, and for that I am glad.

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