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The questions you are asking about coronavirus and international schools

ISC Research hosted a webinar about the impact of coronavirus on international schools in East and South East Asia last week. Several questions were posted during the webinar and here are the responses from the ISC Research team:

Is the absence of teachers (because they went back to their home countries) going to delay the reopening of international schools in China?

Where schools did not get sufficient teachers back in the country before China put a temporary ban on foreigners returning, these schools will offer a hybrid approach for the remainder of this academic year, using the teachers that they have back to provide the classroom teaching and ask the teachers who are still overseas to continue with online learning.  Schools are much more concerned about what they will do if they cannot get their new teachers to China in time for the start of the new academic year.  As they do not know when China might lift its temporary ban on foreigners returning, nor do they know when China might start to issue new work visas and residency permits again, the schools do not know yet how this will impact on them.  We understand that many schools intend to honour the contracts and do all they can to get their new teachers here and settled.

Why is it that schools in Asia have the oldest kids start school and Europe (Nordics) start with the younger kids start school first?

Our field-based researchers understand that China has made the decision to welcome grade 9 and grade 12 pupils back to school first for a number of reasons. Chinese pupils still have national exams, grade 12 pupils will take the Gaokao test, the college entrance exams, one month later than initially scheduled on 7th and 8th July, with grade 9 pupils taking the Zhongkao tests for senior high school towards the end of July. There is a view that maintaining social distancing with the older students will be easier for schools to manage, and that parents of younger children may find it easier to get back to work in China, as typically grandparents manage the childcare for them. Although the GCSEs, A levels and IB diploma exams have been cancelled this year, the international schools for expatriate children in China expect to follow the same format as the Chinese schools.

Do you have a sense of how many hours/minutes of home learning per day, schools are requiring from their students, at different ages/stages?

Most international schools that have been impacted by closures for some time now have adapted their distance learning provision as closures were extended. Some schools have developed and rolled out extensive e-learning programmes, with teachers setting work and following the school timetable and lesson plans uploaded for their classes, and assemblies or tutor times anchoring the start and end of the school day. For younger children this is not so easy. Online learning has proved particularly difficult for younger children who are unable to work independently. Some schools have been very creative with their support for their youngest years by developing new ways for delivering storytelling, phonics games, PE exercises, maths puzzles and more but have been more flexible about expectations. Every school is setting its own expectations for children and parents in terms of both time children are spending on home learning, and expectations.

Do you know what technologies are being used by teachers/schools to do video recordings both in China and Singapore?

Schools are using a wide range of platforms such as Zoom, WeChat, webinar platforms, and their mobile phones to video and upload to their MIS, VLE, Microsoft Teams or other platforms for children to access to help them with their distance learning right now.

How much are schools at this stage willing to spend money in purchasing different technologies to make life easier to their teachers and their means for teaching?

There is no doubt that most schools will be giving serious consideration to their education continuity plans for the future. Many schools are already exploring the online platforms that work best for them, and developing systems, structures, and practices to ensure that all members of their school community are well placed should there be any form of disruption to learning in the future. This will be an investment that many schools will have to prioritise, especially if borders remain closed for an extended period and some teachers may have to deliver learning through online solutions.

Developing children’s skills of using blended and online learning approaches will also be essential for preparing them for higher education. There is no doubt that universities around the world will have to offer contemporary technologies, including AI, to deliver their curricula in the future in order to attract international students following the impact of coronavirus.

Home-schooling is one of the potential disruptors for the traditional education. To what extent are you hearing that schools are nervous?

International schools, in the large part, appear to have been very adaptable to the sudden requirements of coronavirus and many have demonstrated that they can deliver rigorous learning through, often rapidly compiled, combinations of technology. Following this experience, most schools will improve their platform solutions in order to have fully integrated models which can deliver learning effectively and securely, track individual student progress, map assessment, provide communication routes for teachers and parents, and integrate administration requirements. Such solutions, combined with teacher training for delivering learning online, will offer schools many options for blended learning and more flexibility of the traditional education model.

However, despite the significant efforts of teachers, students and their parents, online learning, regardless of how well it is planned and executed, cannot replicate the classroom experience as schools and parents are already realising. Many experiences and opportunities will have been missed for children, particularly related to the social interaction of learning.

My sense in Europe and the Middle East is that teachers are much less likely to seek work in China - as it becomes more obvious why this crisis happened.

Teachers and leaders will obviously make their own minds up. International school teachers are known for their resilience, adaptability, courage and commitment. We know from experience that some international school teachers and leaders are willing, and sometimes, eager, to work in challenging or dangerous locations and many teachers have returned enthusiastically to China with plans to remain into next year. However, there may well be a fall in the supply of international teachers worldwide. Teachers may be less willing to live so far from their home country and family having experienced an extended period in which borders have been closed, or may be unable to cross borders for an extended period.

As the coronavirus is now a global pandemic, there is a view that China may be well positioned to realise a faster recovery than many other regions in the world. Expatriate teachers may take reassurance from how well China has been able to contain the spread of the virus compared to some other countries.

One pressing issue for many international schools is how to support their new teachers who are due to start in August; providing the reassurance and support that they need. Some of the challenges that they are grappling with include whether teachers will be able to travel to their new destination country this summer, whether they will be able to get work visas in time to start teaching in August, and whether self-isolation or quarantine will be required if and when they arrive in country.

Schools need to prepare Plan B strategies in case teachers are unable to access their international school or change their minds. These might include offering blended learning solutions which could  combine teachers living in their home countries and delivering online learning with support from classroom based teachers, or the employment of more local skilled teachers with mentoring or training provision in  pedagogy or curriculum, or the offer of generous contract extensions for the existing staff who may already be settled in country. 


You can listen to the full 45 minutes webinar here.