COVID-19: For every half hour lesson of home learning it takes five hours to create

Woman wearing black mask
Ruth Kallman, above, works with one other teacher, sitting two meters away. They both wear masks. Below: Ruth Kallman’s classroom
A schoolteacher works in an empty classroom

Ruth Kallman was a teacher at an international school in the Sichuan province of China when COVID-19 hit.

She says the school became an instant community “because you pulled together, or it broke you”.

“Everyone has lived through acute fear since December, and we are trauma survivors. This is four months on.”

The schools closed and didn’t reopen, yet classes continued. The reopening dates kept changing and continue to change. Everyone hid in their homes. Parents became ‘teachers’ doing Home-Based Learning (HBL). International teaching organisations had to make big decisions, often in emergency time frames – hours or days.

All international personnel had to be evacuated, across the county, because health insurance couldn’t cover them and borders were closing, “in the worst possible circumstances”.

“It was traumatic,” Ms Kallman said.

“We had to evacuate people though the epicenter of a pandemic in the middle of the highest risk season in China because so many people were transiting to get home ahead of the virus and for Chinese New Year, and through international airports – that increased that risk.”

Staffing crisis looms for schools

International schools now face a staffing crisis as they poise to reopen, when many staff and students can’t cross borders to return.

“School is now missing essential, irreplaceable personnel,” said Ms Kallman.

After eight weeks of doing Home-Based Learning Ms Kallman’s school are now delivering lessons from six continents and 18 time zones; to students in China in their time zone.

She wonders how they are going to timetable classes, when school returns, when 50% of the staff can’t get back.

“We will be doing live school and HBL simultaneously.”

“Even if a class is lucky like mine, to have two live teachers, you still have students stuck with HBL because they are stranded internationally across borders.”

“Our international school is REALLY international now.”

How to pay staff?

Another issue faced by schools is working out how to pay staff, when the wage base of the organisation may not be able to support teachers who are living in places with higher costs of living. There are also difficulties associated with moving money across borders because of differences in international laws for money movement.

“How do you do that as your economic base changes, because students and parents are also stuck across borders and cannot be expected to pay fees? How do you continue knowing that your organisation only has a shield of x month’s wages left because of the pandemic?”

Resourcing the classes is also “a nightmare”, says Ms Kallman.

“International copyright laws prevent copying too much, but what do you do when teachers can’t pack their teaching manuals in emergency suitcases due to weight, but they still need resources in their home country to operate units and lessons for HBL?”

“Teachers are expected to be professional but trying to operate an internet class across the Chinese firewall and with no resources is impossible.”

Ms Kallman also sites an example of teachers who were evacuated to their home country, Ghana, with poor internet.

“How do you make store, upload and deliver video lessons of high quality…with poor internet and tech?”, asks Ms Kallman.

“How do you ensure delivery to every student, when some are stuck in mandatory quarantine with poor internet?”

Ms Kallman has learnt many valuable lesson in this process but says if she had just one call to action, that she would like the world to heed, it would be this:

“I feel like if everyone worldwide would just stay home for four weeks we might beat this thing.”

“Instead every country and place has had to come to this realization by themselves. That’s meant a series of rolling crises and it’s allowed this disease to become our worst nightmare. We need to beat this thing internationally. It’s difficult to do what I suggest, but it’s more difficult to suffer for months or years and then have the disease re-emerge again and again.”

“A global response is needed.”