When Coronavirus Comes, Home Becomes a New Classroom

A Chinese student learning through online resources due to the coronavirus outbreak (source: std.stheadline.com)

If there were no coronavirus, Chinese students would have already been back to school for their spring semester, but the spread of the disease has changed everything. Schools are forced to delay the new semester with hordes of students forced to stay at home. In order to complete their syllabi on time, many schools started to hold remote classes through online livestreaming platforms.

Livestreaming is not a new concept, but its applications keep evolving. While initially livestreaming in China, similar to the West, was mostly a territory of gaming and entertainment, it has now broadened to a much wider scale. Eventually, people started seeking out new products, making purchases, and perceiving livestreams as a primary medium to connect with key opinion leaders (KOLs) in China. Now, livestreaming has found yet another application – online education.

Sadly, livestreaming courses do not seem to receive positive feedback from neither teachers nor students. There was a popular video post on Weibo in which a mid-age high school math teacher from Henan province was trying livestreaming for the first time, he did not know that the platform he was using automatically applied beautifying effects to the video, making him look ridiculous. When he was talking in the video, his family spoke to him in a dialect and the teacher had to stop them since the whole class could hear what they were saying. This post reflects the struggle of teachers who are currently working in public schools, especially for those older ones living in second- or third-tier cities or in suburban areas.

Livestreaming is something many of those teachers have to learn from scratch. They might have never watched a livestream before and they had to figure out many technical issues such as how to start a livestream, how to keep the signal stable when sharing their screen, and how to receive and give feedback on homework by themselves. Some teachers apologized to their students for canceling classes as they could not pass the required tests regarding livestreaming policies implemented by platforms and thereby they could not start their streams. A biology teacher even complained that after he showed a picture of the human’s urogenital system to his students, his account was locked as the system thought that was pornographic content.

Most of the teachers are used to having in-person interactions with their students. Teaching remotely does not allow them to check whether students are listening carefully or if the content they are delivering is clearly enough. In order to make their classes more interesting, many teachers even try to imitate popular KOLs.

Students are struggling, too. Being forced to stay at home without friends is already a pain, and being forced to sit in front of the computer to take in hours of online courses is even more painful. “I have four classes each half day with ten-minute breaks between them. However, since I have to test the livestream link for each class before it starts, I virtually have no breaks at all. I think taking half-day online classes is more tiring than staying at the school for a whole day. At the same time, it is also harder to communicate with your teacher when you cannot see each other. I have a lot of questions on what we have covered but have not found any chance to ask. I am very worried about what will be going on next,” read a comment that received over a thousand likes on Weibo. Without any other opportunity to express their anger, students flooded app stores and rated the livestreaming apps they are forced to use with one star reviews complaining about how online courses are destroying their horrible-enough lives.

Parents are also feeling lost. Many kids do not have their own smartphones or laptops, and their parents have to download livestreaming apps onto their phones and help kids log into correct rooms, check whether their kids are watching classes or going to other websites secretly, upload homework online, and receive feedback from teachers on time. It might be fair to say that parents have taken all the responsibility supposed to be taken by teachers besides teaching. Given the fact that Chinese companies are gradually going back to their regular office hours, many parents are now on the brink of madness and regret requesting online classes for their kids.

As livestreaming courses have been criticized for almost one week, the Ministry of Education finally suggested to suspend online classes and decided to provide education resources for free. A new online platform that collects learning materials for all twelve subjects in middle and high schools has been launched on February 17th while the China Education Television started providing courses for children who don’t have internet access. These moves do take a certain burden off the teachers’ shoulders, but still do not remove communication obstacles between teachers and students nor do they make the parents’ lives easier. Not to mention that children’s desire to go out and see their friends still cannot be fulfilled either.

“People will not need to go to school since they can just take classes at home,” wrote an elementary school student twenty years ago about his vision for the year 2020. His or her prediction became true due to an unexpectedly absurd reason but I believe that if he or she has an elementary school kid now, this person is likely praying devoutly that the schools would reopen as soon as possible.