Chinese Americans master COVID-19 schooling

By Li Zi Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/12 18:03:40

Photo: IC

For parents across the globe, one of the most exasperating parts of the pandemic is to help kids continue learning at home. It is particularly tough for most American families as the public education system didn't respond quickly and effectively to the coronavirus crisis. Parents were forced to a "self-service" model of schooling at home, which is extremely exhausting and stressful. The online learning programs developed by Chinese companies have been a lifesaver for a lot of Chinese families in the US.

Everybody was caught off guard when the "shelter in place" order was set in motion about three months ago. Looking back, among all the new norms we need to adjust to, helping kids continue learning at home is definitely the most challenging one. It took some school districts three weeks to figure out online learning curriculum. This mainly involves a 45 minutes check-in session twice a week via Zoom. There is no study materials and homework. The format of the class is a mini version of corporate meetings. I am not surprised that most kids are not engaged at all. In fact, I caught my five-year-old son practicing cartwheels during class time. To give him some credit, he was smart enough to figure out how to turn off the camera. I later learned that the country's three largest school districts (New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago), are not requiring teachers to do any live video instruction. Compared with these cities, most of California schools at least tried.  

Like most Silicon Valley families, both my husband and I have very demanding jobs with back to back meetings during the day. It is impossible for us to "homeschool" two young kids. We were forced to give the kids a "pre-summer vacation" for the first few weeks. I tried to persuade myself that according to early childhood education experts, "free play is good for kids' development."

Well, it turned out that was only true when "free play" is complemented by structured learning and is guided by experienced instructors. I soon found out that the "pre-summer vacation" has wiped out what they've learned from school for the previous semester way faster than what I expected. My five-year-old son who used to be able to do calculation up to 100 could barely do calculations up to 20 after a few weeks' of cartoon marathons on TV. 

Projections for the so-called "COVID slide" in math is even worse." My American friends thought I was paranoid. "Come on, they are just kids… shouldn't we focus on what we have and be happy that they are happy and healthy?" It is true that we should stay positive and not worry too much. However, I found that the kids themselves are bored and have low energy, which is clearly not a sign of being "happy and healthy."   

I am definitely not the only one who feels this way. The Chinese community has been actively exploring different options to help kids continue education. One mom who used to live in Hangzhou made a PPT and hosted a Zoom session to share her experience and learning of different Chinese online programs. At first, I was skeptical about these programs, partially because of their overly aggressive ads and partially because of the inconvenient class schedule for the US West Coast. 

Yet I was pleasantly surprised that some of them turned out to be really good. The curriculum is robust and the software is well designed. The classroom is usually small-sized with four to six kids. The instructors are good at interacting with young kids and know how to keep them engaged. My son who used to do cartwheels during online class can actually sit down and follow through the entire 45 minutes session. In fact, he loves the program so much and has been reminding me to complete his homework and other class tasks with him. In addition to that, I was impressed by how effective and efficient some of the companies manage their operations to meet oversea customers' needs. 

While I am glad that my kids are sort of back on track with their education thanks to the Chinese online learning programs, I am deeply concerned about the public education system in the US. There is widespread concern that even with remote learning in place, many students will return to school behind where they would have been if they'd been in the classroom. 

Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed to cut the education budget. This will definitely jeopardize the already vulnerable public education system and impact millions of kids. Instead of passively waiting for the final plan for the next school year, Chinese communities are more proactively involved in the decision-making process by sharing experiences. They are proposing ideas at the school district's meetings, voting for proposed policies, and making donations to support infrastructure development. It will be a long and stressful journey with many challenges ahead. However, I believe together we can make improvements in a collaborative way, one step at a time. 

The author is an employee at an internet company based in San Francisco.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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