Schools everywhere have faced the need for rapid change to remote learning during COVID-19. International schools in Asia have also had to deal with the added complication of operating in COVID hot zones.
The good news is that they’ve coped quite well, using existing technology and a good dose of native smarts. Their solutions required a combination of empathy, discipline and making good use of commonly used tech like Google Classroom and CareMonkey to communicate with their school community; parents, teachers and students.
Key to the management of the response to operating remotely – especially during a stressful and unprecedented time – is the management of information and the communication of correct information; whether it’s about school, the wider situation, or the policy environment around it.
Dr Jessica Hale, the Secondary Principal from Oasis International School in Kuala Lumpur, has been dealing with a complete month-long lock down in the Malaysian capital.
“One of our successes has been regular feedback, we know that if we don't provide feedback mechanisms for communities they find other ways to feedback and they’re not always in positive ways.
Oasis International School was very proactive in sending out surveys, they were kept quite short and were sent to parents teachers and students. Students fill out a survey for each of their classes.
The student survey asks the questions: ‘I am learning’, ‘I am making progress’ and there is an open field in each of those surveys.
“What that’s allowed is the ability to track the data on where a student is struggling. The teachers get their class feedback so they can also see if an individual student is struggling.
“It's allowed us to hear from parents on what’s going on at home. The environment has drastically changed and we don’t know fully what is going on [at home]. Are there other siblings? Are they struggling with wifi access?
“When we do have students on a pastoral care watch list, we have additional information as to challenges that those students may be facing,” Hale says.
Some routine is a good thing but, with an evolving situation, some malleability has to be allowed for.
“We recommended a timetable loosely. But, I think that one of the messages we’ve consistently told our teachers is to be flexible. So students should loosely be following a timetable and a routine, but, also there needs to be flexibility because again we don't know about all the variables that are in play,” Hale says.
Mark Hevland is Head of Risk Management at International School Bangkok and says that managing social media’s double-edged sword, and obtaining good information, has been key to their response.
“One parent here heard that school was open and soon we had 50 emails come in asking when we were opening.
“The school has a working group with the other international schools, we have a WhatsApp or a line group where we share any information. When information gets shared, we know the source it is coming from and we can throw information we’re hearing back to that and get verification before we move on it,” he says.
Relationships with the US Embassy and the Thai Education Ministry, along with membership of international school associations, means International School Bangkok has a direct line of communication to the source of policy information
“One of the biggest plusses for us was having a crisis management team already in place and having policies for that,” Hevland says
Dr Jessica Hale and Mark Hevland presented in CareMonkey’s Virtual Schooling and COVID-19 – Lessons Learned webinar. Access the webinar here