By Gareth Patrick Gough
I am an English language teacher from Bristol, in the southwest of England. I have worked in schools across England and I have also taught in South Korea. This last year I have been teaching English to primary school students in grades 1, 2, and 3 in a wonderful school in Shenzhen, a city in the south of China. It has been a great experience getting to know the students in my classes and working with the Chinese teachers in my school – I have really enjoyed it!
I came to China with my wife Jessica, who is also teaching, and we have loved it! We are continuing working, living, and traveling in China by moving to Hangzhou next but we will miss lovely Shenzhen very much!
During China’s spring festival a work wide pandemic situation began. The virus was called Covid 19. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus affects people in different ways depending on a number of factors from age to health condition. COVID-19 is believed to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. As such work places and schools containing people who will need to work close by to each other meant too much risk from proximity to vectors of the virus.
Schools the word over have needed to shut their classroom doors and think of creative ways in which to continue children’s education. This provides logistical as well as educational challenges for schools, teachers and pupils alike. Maintaining the engagement of children during the crisis when they are at home, unable to have face-to-face learning opportunities with their teachers and are not around their peer group in vital but also as has been outlined a challenge.
Schools in China especially have been able to make use of online teaching methods and resources. This has enabled teachers to deliver teaching materials to the children in their classes to multiple children at once and keep covering key areas of the curricula. Children in China and other developed countries are lucky that the internet has afforded them this back up, which though not a substitute for face-to-face teaching at least allows learning to continue. This is not the case all over the world and children have had very unequal access to learning. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing more than 1.6 billion children and youth to be out of school in 161 countries. This is close to 80% of the world’s enrolled students. The world was already experiencing a global leaning crisis, as many students were in school, but were not learning the fundamental skills needed for life. The World Bank’s “Learning Poverty” indicator – the % of children who cannot read and understand at age 10 – stood at 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries – before the outbreak started and the Covid situation will have only made this worse.
Online ESL Teaching
I taught grades 1, 2 and 3 during my time with my school.
My school, in common with many schools in China shifted to online teaching once it became clear that it would be some time until the schools would be able to open again. Teachers across my school needed to adapt their teaching in order to deliver their teaching online. All subjects were taught online from English to Maths and even PE! In addition to my live lessons I also provided Sea Dragon English with 2 lessons per week uploaded to their system which they then distributed to the schools themselves.
There are of course some practical difficulties as well as some good aspects which I will now outline.
Not all students have the same quality of internet connection. Some students might have been sharing the connection with others in the household or may not have as fast a connection as others do. Some students may have a lot of internet enabled devices at home while others may not or may have to share with a sibling. One way around this was that lessons were automatically recorded so that students and their parents would be able to access the lessons later. Some of these difficulties affected attendance for online lessons with there being less students logged in at any one time than would be in attendance at class.
2. Technical issues with the learning platform
My school used the Tencent online platform to deliver lessons. I was given a quick talk through by my school about how to use the platform and then I practised a few times. There were a few issues specific to my equipment that did affect the smoothness of my transition to online teaching. My laptop is old and I should replace it soon so this affected my lessons at some points – slowing down the ten cent programme and occasional unresponsiveness which led to frozen lessons on occasion. I also had some difficulty with the platform but that was related to language issues which prevented me from using the platform to its full potential.
For Sea Dragon English (SDE) I used Zoom to record my lessons and the used the Dingtalk platform to upload these lessons to SDE – I found both these systems straightforward to use, as they were both in English and clearly laid out.
3. The lessons
While it was nice to have some contact with my students I was not able to have the richness of content that I would have liked. My school’s online lessons were twenty minutes’ long as primary school student’s attention span for lessons online is not able to take in a normal 40-minute lesson. I was unable to use the schools live lesson ten cent platform to its full potential so the lessons took a more lecture style format with videos and realia used where I could (i.e. tasting fruit in lessons about our senses)
4. Lack of visual feedback
Not been able to impart knowledge and receive visual feedback from students was difficult. Using non-verbal communication to supplement language acquisition is an important part of the teaching process so this being taken away was difficult. I was not able to adjust difficulty up or down and realise when I needed to provide more explanation.
ESL Teaching Conclusion
When learning anything new there is always trial and error and this was the first time I have delivered online learning. I found the experience interesting but sometimes frustrating. With ages I teach (G1-3) online learning is not ideal and difficult for students and teachers alike. The practical realities of the virus outbreak meant that online learning was the most effective way of continuing education and I was very impressed with the speed of China’s response to the situation in providing online learning (this has no been the case all over the world)