Teaching in the time of pandemic

Photo: April Bryant, Pixabay / CC0
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There are about 1.5 million children and teenagers enrolled in Czech elementary and secondary schools. These days, as in other European countries, they must stay at home due to the coronavirus outbreak. Teachers are expected to keep in touch with them via e-mail and other online media. How are they managing?

Michaela Kondýsková, photo: archive of Michaela Kondýsková
These days, schools across Europe are empty. One of the most visible side-effects of the coronavirus pandemic is the massive exercise in remote learning or distance education the world has ever seen. So, how are Czech teachers responding to this unexpected challenge?

Michaela Kondýsková is an experienced English secondary (or high school) teacher in Žďár nad Sázavou, a town of some 20,000 people about 100 miles southeast of Prague. A spring break was in effect in that part of the Czech Republic when all classes were cancelled:

“I had a few days’ time to think about what I am going to do. Still, it’s a completely new situation. We’ve never had any practice or drills about what to do. We spoke about teaching online – but only jokingly. So, I had to rethink everything and I have changed my ideas several times.

“At first, you think technology is omnipotent but then you find out there are so many different platforms, so many different methods that it can be complicated and confusing. I consulted our IT specialist and other colleagues about what to do in order to keep the lessons simple.”

“Having said that, I would like to thank all the publishing houses which made a lot of material available online for free. It is even quite moving. The downside is that we are just overwhelmed by the amount of available teaching material.”

So far, Michaela has been using almost exclusively e-mail to communicate with the students. But later on, she will need Skype, telephone or some other platforms to speak to them directly. Still, the typical Czech method of testing the students orally will be difficult:

“It will be very tempting for them to cheat. Even if I see them on Skype, they may have some paper or screen behind the computer that I will not be able to see. I told them I knew about it and did not care. If they cheat when tested, they cheat themselves.”

Of course, not all families of the students have reliable internet access or can be online. Some simply chose to stay off the grid, so to speak. This may present a serious problem. But so far, Michaela has managed to get in touch with the majority of her students.

Photo: April Bryant, Pixabay / CC0
Every cloud has a silver lining, as the saying goes. Does Michaela see potential of some positive lessons in the current difficult situation?

“Definitely, we are already learning new things, acquiring useful skills as we speak. I always try to keep in mind and tell my students: ‘Be careful what you whish for! You may get it and not like it’. A few days ago, we took school and work for granted. Now we miss it, and that’s a lesson in itself. But we are cooperating, working on it all together. Teachers as well as students. We have to think and work independently and be responsible for ourselves. That is also a lesson.”

The Czech Ministry of Education now predicts that it will be able to decide by the end of March about the possible reopening of schools. Be it as it may, the earliest date that the Czech schools could reopen is April 11.