Not ready for online classes

Not ready for online classes

Not only has the resurgence of the novel coronavirus hit the country's public health sector -- and subsequently, its economy -- hard, but it has also exposed the disparities in the nation's education system.

In the hope of containing the latest Covid-19 outbreak, the government has ordered public and private schools in the so-called "maximum control zones" to close and switch to online and/or distance learning until Jan 31.

At present, 28 provinces are considered maximum control zones, namely Bangkok, Tak, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya, Saraburi, Lop Buri, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Nakhon Nayok, Kanchanaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Ratchaburi, Suphan Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Phetchaburi, Samut Songkhram, Samut Sakhon, Chachoengsao, Prachin Buri, Sa Kaeo, Samut Prakan, Chanthaburi, Chon Buri, Trat, Rayong, Chumphon and Ranong.

As a result, as more schools move their classes to Zoom, an increasing number of children and parents are becoming frustrated by the situation.

This isn't the first time that schools have had to be closed due to Covid-19. When the outbreak began last year, the government issued similar guidelines, after it closed all schools nationwide.

Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan is well aware of the problem. Late last month, he decided to scrap the Ordinary National Education Test (O-Net) for Prathom 6 (Grade 6) and Mathayom 3 (Grade 9) in the 2020 academic year, citing school closures and ineffective online learning during the pandemic. The tests were cancelled, he reasoned, as many students were unable to prepare for them properly.

That said, the minister seems to have no idea how to solve the same problem the second time around with officials at the Education Ministry having learned nothing.

Well-respected academic Sompong Jitradub said online learning and teaching are only effective if students have consistent access to the internet and computers, and if teachers have received targeted training and support for online instruction.

But the data he collected from several provinces is not promising, as it showed that not all schools, teachers and parents are ready for home instruction. "Many children, particularly those in rural areas, still have problems like the lack of WiFi, faulty reception and limited to no access to working computers," said Prof Sompong, who teaches at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education.

The academic added that distance learning can only be productive if students have a supportive environment at home. His research team found, however, that over 30% of students did not have such a supportive study environment. It found 66% of students surveyed also had no computer and 57% didn't have home internet.

The shift to online learning has shed even more light on the widening gap between children in rural and urban areas, with the expert saying that rural students in Thailand are about three years behind their urban counterparts. Exacerbating the problem are the poorly designed and outdated remote learning materials, which are based on rote memorisation.

While it is understood that online and/or distance learning will only be used as a fall-back measure in times of emergency, the state has an obligation to improve the system. It must do what it can to narrow the education gap between rich children in urban areas and poor children in rural areas, with or without the threat of Covid-19.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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