Schools from around the world share their experiences of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic and reveal their plans to welcome students back to school safely.
Schools are sharing best practices and collecting feedback from students and parents to support teaching and learning in the face of potential future lockdowns. School is much more than just learning, it’s a safe place where children can access friendship, exercise and healthy food among other things. IB World Schools will be following their regional guidelines as they begin to reopen and will be subject to different rules dependent on their location. Here‘s how five schools are adapting.
Moscow, Russia: Making students feel part of the community
Brookes Moscow in Russia reopened on 31 August. To keep students and staff safe, there were no assemblies, staggered recess and lunch times and all staff members had to wear masks. “At-risk students and staff will have options on what they will do when schools start and we are currently testing staff on a bi-weekly basis”, says Rick Lewis, academic dean and Diploma Programme (DP) coordinator at Brookes Moscow.
Supporting our student’s emotional well-being during lockdown has been difficult and will present new challenges as schools reopen. “This was the hardest aspect for all schools,” says Lewis. “During school closures, we continued to have virtual assemblies and we had opportunities for students to chat during Zoom calls”.
Although Brookes Moscow has reopened for most students, distance learning is continuing for some year 12 and 13 students who have been displaced during the pandemic. “We have a few students that live in Siberia and their boarding school has been closed, so they will carry on with distance learning through us for year 12”, says Lewis. “We have installed 360-degree cameras in our rooms so that students can control and have an interactive board in our DP lounge where students can hold Zoom conversations. We want them to feel like they are part of our school community”.
Jeju Island, South Korea: Adhering to the IB educational philosophy virtually
Branksome Hall Asia, situated on an island in South Korea, has been in regular operations since May. During distance learning from February to April, teachers tried to ensure that their students’ learning experiences were focused on an inquiry-based approach. Students were given the opportunity to develop their research, thinking, communication, self-management skills, and even their social skills. The latter was achieved by tasking students to teach family members certain topics and utilizing small collaborative breakout rooms.
The school made sure students had resources for projects or could use what they had at home. “We sent our grade 10 Middle Years Programme (MYP) students design tech packages and sent Primary Years Programme (PYP) and MYP students art packages to complete their work at home. While students were asked to work with the packages on their own so that they could accomplish self-management skills, teachers were also available to answer any questions and provide feedback during the online classes and individual emails when needed”, says Branksome Hall Asia’s director of technology, innovation and research Dr Terry McAdams.
In science, students were encouraged to conduct experiments using a variety of household objects. Red cabbage, for example, was used to test the acidity or alkalinity of a substance in a similar way to litmus paper. “Our science teachers also recorded videos of themselves conducting experiments with explanations, as they would in class”, says McAdams.
The school created an online survey for parents in three languages (English, Korean, Chinese) after their first week of online learning. “The survey included questions on the variety of approaches to learning and the effectiveness of our online programme. We reflected on the results and made a few changes. Notably, we increased the lesson time in the middle/senior school but ensured that we modularized the lessons to reduce screen fatigue”, says McAdams.
He adds: “One way to ensure that our teachers remain innovative is to share best practices. The number of free online tools that have been made available during the pandemic is immense and our teachers have been using many of them and sharing their ideas. All of this first-hand experience is being compiled into our learning management website, which teachers can peruse at their leisure”.
“Our teachers readily admit that they have learned ePedagogy skills that they will incorporate into their face-to-face lessons”, says McAdams. “Online learning has provided us with opportunities to develop our expertise. Some students (especially more able ones) found online learning preferable to face-to-face. Others found their voice because they were more comfortable using discussion boards when they would normally hide in the classroom”.
Doha, Qatar: Using online resources
Despite the many challenges lockdown caused, many IB World Schools were able to transition to distance learning due to the availability of electronic devices and technological resources. “Our kindergarten students have their own iPads, which enables them to be independent users of technology”, says Rachel McLeod, early childhood principal at ACS Doha in Qatar. “They use it to access their learning portfolio on Seesaw to share, reflect and celebrate their learning with their parents”.
PYP teachers were also incredibly innovative in creating new online resources and making them fun. “Bitmoji became popular and many teachers created avatars and classroom backgrounds housing interactive links to stories, follow-up work, songs and parent information”, says McLeod.
ACS Doha also found that using video conferencing has been particularly successful. “The use of Zoom as our platform of delivery has helped our students improve attendance in sessions and tardiness has significantly reduced. Attendance to parent sessions also greatly increased,” says Oliver Chua, DP coordinator at ACS Doha. “We will continue to provide parent sessions with the option of online or face-to-face attendance”.
Bangalore, India: Limitations of online learning
While it’s clear that technology has allowed education to continue successfully during the pandemic, Vinod Singh, head of school at Trio World Academy in Bangalore, India says teachers should be mindful of its limitations. “Engaging students at this juncture is important for both academic and emotional reasons, but it is crucial to remember that technology is an aid to schooling and not a substitute. What’s important is not what is taught but what students learn”.
Although students at the school were well versed in the use of iPads, teachers still had to find ways to connect with children who were struggling and worked closely with parents to identify any difficulties. “We faced challenges in keeping the spirits of some students up”, says Singh. “Teachers were constantly in touch with parents, giving them feedback on the child’s participation and performance”.
Illinois, USA: Incorporating the themes of a pandemic
At Beacon Academy in Illinois, USA—which started its school year fully remote—Dr Sarah Roth, director of faculty, says: “We knew it was important to allow students to turn their intellectual attention to the issues that the pandemic highlighted. For our seniors who no longer had to prepare for exams, we offered a five-week Senior Explorations programme—deep dives into topics including Exploring the Data of COVID-19, Biotechnology, Environmental Ethics and the Poetry of Revolution, each of which allowed students to integrate emerging information about the pandemic.”
Learning to innovate
Many IB World schools are actively using their experience during the pandemic to innovate. ACS Doha is considering a ‘Who We Are’ unit. “The focus will be on new ways of working together, healthy living and sharing stories about quarantine”, says McLeod. “We want to provide the opportunity for children to freely discuss their stories and lives and how they feel”.
Branksome Hall Asia’s Dr McAdams admits it was significantly more challenging to deliver the PYP online than the MYP and DP. “Teachers felt that online learning for early years children was very labour intensive, both for teachers and parents. When students were given the opportunity to complete learning activities offline to reduce screen time, this posed problems for parents as they had to take on the role of ‘teacher”, he says.
The way IB teachers have rallied to support students in innovative ways during the pandemic is to be commended and its success emphasises the importance of school as a stabilising factor in students’ lives. As ACS Doha’s Chua says: “We may not have been able to be there with them physically, but we were able to provide them with the socio-emotional and academic support they needed”.
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