Sharing Social Distance Football

ISF Offering Online English Lessons Amid COVID-19

Normally, ISF English teacher Josh Kauffman would object if one of his student’s parents came into his classroom to ask her son to do the ironing, and wouldn’t be too happy about the babies or chickens occasionally wandering in either. But these are new times. Given that his class is a Zoom room which reaches right into the homes of his students, he has adapted to the fact that things aren’t quite as they used to be.

“We have to adapt to everything that is going on. Teachers have to adapt, but the students have to adapt even more, they don’t have the same structure as we can provide them. But we’re working it out,” he says wryly.

ISF’s English Programme started preparing for the COVID-19 crisis before the first case even reached Cambodia and schools closed in March. That’s why they were able to put in place a home working system in the first weeks, providing students with the materials needed to keep up their studies. However, by April it was obvious more needed to be done. ISF English teachers could continue setting homework based on what students had already learnt, but believed their progress would stagnate under such conditions. They needed fresh learning.

That’s when English Programme head Tep Sothearith devised the idea of online lessons. Working with Josh and seven other English teachers, they launched them in May. Online lessons fall into two categories: pre-recorded videos and real time Zoom classes allowing for some of the same interactivity as a classroom. And some new interactions, like simultaneous babysitting.

“We have to go through these difficult times together. We are working hard to find ways to reach kids and it can be a struggle. But it’s an opportunity for our teachers to learn new things.”

The pre-recorded lessons can be watched any time and vary according to the teacher. Just like classroom-based ones. Some teachers use projectors, others use whiteboards, and a few technical wizards even add special effects. Some record from home, some in an ISF classroom, and in one case a teacher visiting family in a distant province even managed to borrow a local classroom.

The teachers capitalize on the extreme popularity of Facebook in Cambodia, posting lessons in a private Facebook Group for students. While some teachers initially found the technical aspects of making the videos difficult and others took time to adjust to the lack of an audience, they have rapidly improved. And as a bonus: thanks to emojis, they often get more positive feedback than in a classroom lesson, and certainly more hearts.

While Zoom lessons add value, they also increase the amount of challenges. Now that they are home, some children live in areas with poor signals. Sothearith says, “The Internet connection can be very bad, sometimes they have terrible phones which just don’t offer the right quality. But once people are connected it’s good – not quite the classroom but certainly better than not learning.”

The other problem some children face is the actual home environment. As well as babysitting and household chores, many students’ homes double as small businesses. So it’s not uncommon for students to disappear to help their parents. Noise can also be a big problem, and attendance is still not as high as we would like, at 60%. However, everything is improving as kids get more familiar with the technology and adjust to the new normal.

“We have to go through these difficult times together,” says Sothearith. “We are working hard to find ways to reach kids and it can be a struggle. But it’s an opportunity for our teachers to learn new things, at the same time as they continue to teach the kids new things.” We’re very proud of them, and all our teachers. If ever there was a situation which needed rising to, it is this – and they have all done so with tenacity, creativity and determination.