New and Old Challenges of the New School Year
An interview with Mr Kwan Ho-kwan

PTU News Reporter

As summer nears its end, the new school year without face-to-face teaching approaches.

After half a year of online learning, the education sector has now accumulated experience – but also problems.

We interviewed secondary school teacher Mr Kwan Ho-kwan and discussed the challenges of this new school year.

Expectations and Reality of ‘Learning at Home’

Some say class suspension is an opportunity to explore online learning and expand the room for autodidacticism. It goes without saying that our teachers should be credited for their efforts and achievements, but what worries Mr Kwan is that this learning mode will exacerbate the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. ‘The society mistakenly assumes all families in Hong Kong can afford the equipment necessary for online learning’. In Mr Kwan’s school, most students come from grass-root families and some are ethnic minorities. Some of them do not have a computer at home and rely solely on a small smart phone and its limited data and speed for internet. To make matters worse, most of their living spaces are limited and noisy, which greatly impacts their learning process.

‘Students with better conditions get to watch teachers’ explanations on their laptop while responding directly from their tablet in real time. But for others, seeing what teachers are showing in the videos clearly already poses a challenge.’ Although the school is actively seeking assistance by, for example, buying and lending tablets to students, and some charities provide students with data SIM cards for internet access, poor learning conditions remains a major issue. Subjects that place an emphasis on discussion, such as Liberal Studies, which Mr Kwan teaches, is particularly challenging. Issues that arise from learning at home such as discipline and emotions are also difficult to address. To achieve effective learning at home for all students, there is still a long way to go.

Challenges Beyond Intellectual Needs

School education places emphasis on whole-person development. But the pandemic has significantly impacted non-regular classes. Teaching arts and physical education subjects online have proven to be a great challenge, extra-curricular activities have come to a halt, and counselling services and emotional support for students has been a strenuous effort.

Mr Kwan teaches Physical Education and trains the football team. That is why he pays particular attention to students’ fitness and performance. During class suspension, he created a series of sports videos along with explanations to encourage students to do sports at home, but to no avail. ‘When class resumed in May, it was obvious everyone gained weight – I myself included’. After class resumption, according to the Education Bureau’s guidelines, facemasks and social distance were necessary. Sports that required exchanging objects were to be avoided. As a result, most ball games and trainings could not take place.

Mr Kwan is also responsible for counselling. ‘The warmth of human interaction is missing between the screens. It is difficult to engage students.’ He noticed that, during class suspension, conflicts between students and parents increased and so did parents’ requests for emotional support, which points to the fact that more efforts are needed in educating parents. For example, the school has produced some pamphlets to advise parents on how to address being ‘locked in’ for a long period of time with their kids. In addition, many grass-root parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic and face a financial challenge at the moment. Teachers also try to seek support from different channels (such as food banks).

No Plan Is Not The Best Plan

Normally, all activities for the whole school year would have been planned out by this time of the year. Now both teachers and students can only play it by ear given all the uncertainties. Mr Kwan hopes that the Education Bureau will discuss planned inspections and external reviews with schools as soon as possible so that schools can plan accordingly.

For Mr Kwan, the new school year poses multiple challenges because he is about to expand his career in a new school. It takes time for new teachers to adapt, and the same goes for primary one and form one students. Yet, all orientation activities have been cancelled and getting to know new teachers and students is only possible online – novel, but one can’t help but feel a bit helpless.

After all, education is all about relationships. Mr Kwan reminisces the short-lived class resumption in May, when he saw that students were even more eager for school and time with their teachers and peers. We all learnt not to take everything for granted and to consider what is most important.