A student takes online courses at home in Beijing, Feb. 17, 2020. (Photo by Chen Zhonghao/Xinhua)
Millions of Chinese students are restricted to their homes due to a nationwide epidemic control mechanism started on Monday to provide online learning, as the new school semester originally scheduled for Feb. 17 is currently postponed without a specific date.
Primary and middle schools in China are required to open online curriculums by using official educational websites to ensure that 180 million students "are occupied with the guided study at home."
The Beijing municipal education commission said that "it is not a holiday in the traditional sense, nor does it mean that the new school semester has started online."
China has postponed the start of the new school semester over safety concerns as the country fights a novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected 70,548 people as of the end of Sunday. A total of 1,696 people had died of the disease.
Zhang Ziqing, a 14-year-old girl living in Daxing District, Beijing, turned on her computer at home at 8:00 a.m. and began her first day of "online school study."
"I communicated with teachers via online office software called Fastmeeting. Each teacher took 15 minutes to guide us on how to study online. Assignments were given such as reviewing Chinese, mathematics and English," said the Grade-8 student from the Daxing South Campus of the Middle School of the Capital Normal University.
Schools in Xicheng District in downtown Beijing required students to log on bdschool.cn, a digital education website, which offers multimedia courseware from primary schools to senior high schools. Students can click on their respective course links based on class schedules given by their teachers, while teachers give guidance and requirements via online group chats such as Wechat.
A middle school's daily course schedule can last from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with breaks for self-learning, eye exercises and class meeting.
According to the municipal commission, students are mainly taking courses to "review knowledge rather than taking new classes during the online study sessions."
Many Beijing schools on Monday assigned the tasks asking students to think about what they have seen and heard in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic. Students can present their knowledge and thoughts in the form of writing, painting or video clips.
The municipal education authorities have entrusted the Advanced Innovation Center for Future Education of the Beijing Normal University to develop an online platform for senior students in junior high and senior high schools, where veteran teachers started to give lectures with interactive question and answer sessions from Monday.
In southern China's metropolitan of Guangzhou, the curriculum of online school classes cover physical exercise, reading, anti-epidemic education, aesthetic education as well as math, science and English. Each class lasts no more than 15 minutes.
While primary and middle schools are testing the waters of online teaching, higher-learning institutes such as Beijing's prestigious Peking and Tsinghua universities officially set off the teaching work in the spring semester on Monday through various online tech means.
Song Xin, with the Teaching Development Center of the Peking University, said the center provides technical support and services to ensure teachers and students rely on online platforms to start teaching, peer discussions and teacher-student exchanges.
On Monday, the university offered 563 undergraduate classes with 290 of them in form of live streaming. There are 101 classes using recorded online video courses via the university's website, and 96 discussion classes held via online group chats.
The university adopts the software of the "ClassIn" system and Canvas Network to support the online teaching.
"The epidemic situation poses a challenge to us, but it is also an opportunity to comprehensively promote the digitalization and informatization of teaching," said Qiu Yong, principal of Tsinghua.
Zhang Bingyin, a teacher of the Water Conservancy Department of Tsinghua, has equipped his laptop with a Logitech HD webcast camera and a Wacom e-writing tablet that the school has purchased for teachers for online teaching.
"New tech has given me tricks to interact with students during online courses. For example, the 'Rain Classroom' app, a new smart big-data teaching solution, helps me test students' mastery of my course content and randomly calls the roll to pick students to speak via Tencent's office meeting software," said the teacher.
Fan Jingtao, a teacher in the automation department of Tsinghua, set up a teaching platform at his home. Via a laptop, he gave the course of "C + + Programming and Training" to 330 students. The course was "heavily interactive," he said, as it was integrated with in-depth interactive discussions and repeated tests.