As COVID looms large, children struggle with online  study

December 17, 2021 - 13:10

The grave problem with studying online is that it depends so much on individual students.


Illustration by Trịnh Lập

By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

We have been watching the number of coronavirus positive cases closely over this past week. Every day a new record seemed to be noted. On December 13, Hà Nội hit the 1,000 case mark for the first time. On Wednesday infections in the city had risen higher still, to 1,024.

In a community group titled 'United Medical Group to Give a Hand Fighting COVID", there have been posts saying people are living with F0 cases in their families and continuous calls to local healthcare wards that could not get help for patients: no medication, no sanitation spray, nor ambulances coming to take patients to hospitals.

Some comments suggest basic medication, some encourage people to be patient with a daily rinse of the nose and throat, and to check the oxygen in their blood levels.

With high vaccination rates, many patients in Hà Nội are not showing any symptoms and random checks revealed results that shocked the patients themselves.

"You should not fear of COVID, like an ostrich would hide its head in the sand," read the status of a doctor at Thanh Nhàn hospital, who specialises in spine surgery. "But you shall also not be reckless with coronavirus even if you have already had two vaccine shots. One thing I doubt is that if the number of cases continues to rise at this level, that our medical infrastructure can handle it before things get out of control."

We do not want to see anything close to what had happened in Hồ Chí Minh City a few months back but, really, if you see a storm coming, there is not much you can do about it.

Just two weeks ago, a Hà Nội Department of Education and Training decision sent all 12th-grade students back to school. This decision was made when the students had only had one vaccine shot and had not developed enough antibodies.

"This is a decision our school board cannot do anything about," read an announcement from the school board in the city. "All facilities have been set up at school so that if a student becomes a patient, then that class shall be isolated."

The announcement read like it's made during a time of war, where it encourages all students to bring at least two sets of clothing to school and to be prepared to stay at school for a few days.

This sounds worrying for parents, educators and school teachers, but I suggest that if this turns out to be the case, the students will jump at the occasion to be together in class for 24 hours a day without having to study.

Less than three days after 12th-grade students were called back to school, parents wrote a letter to ask for their children to keep studying online. The next day, a teacher had to go to school and teach only five students in a classroom. On the third day, sure enough, everyone was back studying online again. 

The grave problem with studying online is that it depends so much on individual students. Those in secondary schools and that like to study or want to pass entrance exams to colleges find it very liberating to study at home. Others are less interested.

"I have more time to study on my own," said Thái Hà, a 12th grader who has to focus on maths, physics and chemistry and try to pass IELTS at level 7 or above to be considered for a college application. "I miss seeing my friends, but staying at home has saved me a lot of travel time. When pandemic restrictions were lifted, we got to go to a cafe to hang out and study."

"Studying in a cafe" for my generation would translate as hanging out in a place to be seen. My parents would never believe it if they heard the term "team study", which was just an excuse for kids to chat, gossip and eat together.

The coffee in my day was a scarce commodity and cafes won't let anyone hang about in them once they had finished their coffee. They would just be nicely asked to pay their bill and leave.

But today "studying in a cafe" has become popular among high school students, college students and freelancers. With a laptop and a VNĐ30,000 black or milk filtered coffee, you can sit in a cafe and work until your heart is content.

In cafes, students chat about what they've been up to and I believe digest information faster, easier and remember it for longer. Of course, this is only when they have an interest in the subject and are serious about learning.

On the other hand, studying online means your screen is on and your camera is turned off or upward to face the ceiling. 

Real-time study used to be 45 minutes a session, now it has been reduced to only 30 minutes again. Teachers explain online and to save time, they tend to ask only bright students to speak up. Children who cannot follow what’s going on, just skip the session, not bothering to ask because the teacher doesn’t have time to explain.

When the announcement was made public earlier this month, mixed feelings exploded.

 “Mum, I’m very grateful that Ms Phượng kept sending homework every day,” said my 8th grader. “I have friends who have to make up 100 classes in all subjects.”

When we get reports every day from the teacher, sometimes we feel that she’s doing a meticulous job, telling students off for not wearing uniforms onscreen, for turning up late, and failing to send in homework on time. But it seems she’s doing it all in vain because many parents do not seem to care as it’s the same students making the same mistakes. I for one wouldn’t be happy to see my child on that list.

But thinking it over, I thanked the teacher for alerting parents on time to find solutions. If we can make ourselves think that way at the end of a long hard working day, our child will benefit greatly.

Good luck to us! VNS