3-Year-Old in Hong Kong: Online Pre-School

From Emily Matchar in the Smithsonian Magazine:

In the video, my son’s preschool teacher is sitting alone in an empty classroom, surrounded by wooden toy blocks. “When I am building, do I put the small block down and then the big block?” she asks the camera. “Or do I put the big block and then the small block?”

My 3-year-old son is lounging on the couch, half watching, half flipping through a pop-up book. He’s dressed in a fleece shark costume, his preferred attire when not forced to wear his school uniform.

This is what “school” looks like these days here in Hong Kong. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, all schools, including my son’s private bilingual preschool, have been closed since January, and won’t reopen until late April at the earliest.

What are schools doing?

Hong Kong has no specific online curriculum, so schools are cobbling together their own solutions using a myriad of platforms and apps, from Google Classroom, a free web service for assigning and sharing work, to BrainPOP, a site offering animated educational videos.

Some students are expected to work alongside their classmates in real time. Others are allowed to watch pre-recorded videos or complete emailed worksheets at their own pace.

Some parents are happy with their setups. Others have taken to Facebook to commiserate over “mommy needs wine” memes. The situation can give some insight into what Americans might expect as some schools transition to online learning.

“I’ve been working from home the past four weeks, and it’s been incredibly insightful to actually see what’s going on, because normally I’m not in school,” says Anna Adasiewicz, a business development manager originally from Poland, who has lived in Hong Kong for 16 years. Her 12-year-old daughter attends a subsidized English-language school run by the English Schools Foundation, which runs 22 schools in Hong Kong.

I feel the same doing Daddy School. I had the Big Picture right, but being beside them each morning teachers me a lot about the nuances of their strengths and weaknesses.

Unlike my son and his shark costume, Adasiewicz’s daughter is expected to be “dressed appropriately” and sit at a table, not a couch, when she logs on to Google Classroom each morning. Her school has been using the free service to share assignments, monitor progress, and let students and teachers chat. They’re also doing interactive lessons via Google Hangouts Meet, a virtual-meeting software made free in the wake of the coronavirus.

“I actually think she’s more focused with this approach,” Adasiewicz says. “She’s not distracted by other kids. The class sizes are normally about 30, so I imagine a typical teacher spends a good portion of the time on behavior management. Here the teacher can mute anyone!”

Cat Lao, a special education classroom assistant, whose daughters are 3, 6 and 8, has also been happy with the experience.

Her youngest daughter is in a local preschool while her older two attend an English Schools Foundation primary school.

Her middle daughter has been using the Seesaw app to share assignments with her teacher and receive feedback.

Her eldest daughter has been using Google Classroom and Flipgrid, an app that lets teachers set topics or questions for students to respond to via video. This child especially appreciates the real-time Google Meets, Lao says, since she misses the social aspects of school.

Not everyone is a fan.

Her children’s online learning program has been full of technological glitches, Mor says, which requires taking time from her own workday to fuss with unfamiliar programs.

“It needs adult supervision,” she says. “It can be quite daunting.”