During their Chinese New Year holiday, students in Hong Kong received the news that they wouldn’t be going back to school for at least another month. With the concerns over the Wuhan Coronavirus increasing, the government has closed all schools until March at the earliest. On first impressions, this might sound like an extended holiday, but educators are now faced not only with the challenge of teaching remotely but also continuing to provide the pastoral support that is an inherent part of the job.
The sudden closure of school raises a number of concerns for the well-being of our students. It is not always clear how educators should respond.
First of all, there is general anxiety among the population related to the Coronavirus. There are so many unknowns with an invisible disease. Is it safe to go out? Do I need a mask? Will the situation get worse?
These fears are exacerbated by media coverage and especially social media posts. The anxiety of parents and caregivers can be transferred to their children, but should schools provide lessons on viruses and hygiene, or would this only deepen the problem?
Educators should be mindful of how they might be increasing anxiety in their students and need to try to project calmness, despite having worries of their own.
Secondly, children miss their friends when they’re not at school and, although some might not admit it, they even miss their teachers. There are also concerns for the well-being of some children when they return back to school after longer holidays. The challenge for educators is to facilitate communication and interaction between the students in their classes.
Thankfully, the technology presently available has provided many opportunities in this regard. Lessons are being broadcast to students in the comfort of their homes, with videoconferencing utilised for discussions. There are multiple ways to post and give feedback on learning for different age groups of students and these activities are designed to resemble classroom learning as much as possible.
Additionally, children can be upset by uncertainty and it’s important to try and keep school as a safe haven of constancy, continuing with business as usual. In fact, this is the second time this year that Hong Kong schools have been closed suddenly. Protests across the city in November affected transport and caused schools to be shut temporarily.
To foster a sense of security, educators are trying to continue with normal lessons, picking up the topic from where it was left off and giving hope that the situation will return to normal before too long.
Personally, I have been working from home as I teach my Upper Primary class. My colleagues and I have been producing videos and activities to continue our lessons online, learning new teaching skills in the process. Our counsellors have been offering their services to the families and staff online, and as we begin this unexpected month of online teaching, our sense of community has been strengthened as we support each other in these challenges.
Amid the uncertainty, I’m confident that when we do return to have our lessons back at school again, we will all appreciate being able to interact with each other in person and understand the value of our relationships more clearly. The month of February will be a difficult one for our city and our schools, but if we remember to look out for each other and our students, we might emerge stronger as a result.
Jim Nelson is a primary school teacher from Northern Ireland who has also worked in secular and Christian international schools in China and Hong Kong.
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