Coronavirus Travel Bans: How China’s International Schools Reopen without Foreign Teachers Coming Back?
2020-05-01 20:26:44

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China has defended a temporary travel ban on foreigners during the COVID-19 pandemic since March 28th. As the coronavirus has spread across the globe, a large number of countries are on lockdown to curb the crisis and save more lives. While over the past month, as the outbreak recedes in China, primary and secondary schools, including international schools in many provinces and cities, have reopened offline.

However, unlike after-school training institutions, international schools should provide not only  an immersive language environment, but also the cultivation of students’ global vision and understanding of different cultures. Amid the wake of the coronavirus epidemic and global travel restrictions, international education needs to transform that Chinese schools are figuring out their way to break through.

More Online Interactions

“One of the things that I think is positive coming out of the coronavirus situation, which is a tragedy, should be forcing a lot of teachers to try using online tools.” Said Andrew Zutell, an American teacher at Moonshot Academy’s Beijing Campus, an innovative high school education project. From his perspective, online teaching amid the COVID-19 crisis will bring with teachers new tools, strategies, and technologies.

“I can ask a question online and require all of the students to respond at the same time, and we can do some interesting things with that.” For high school-aged students, online teaching could be positive that teachers, students, and parents can get all the information they need on their courses and their grades as well.

“Moonshot Academy also has some people who are dedicated to physical, mental, and emotional, providing kind of the well-being of students.” Said Andrew. According to him, both teachers and students are asked to do exercise and check-in, then and share that on the social media platform. “It’s a really positive thing we have done to build community even if we are social distancing and not being there in person.”

In fact, before the epidemic, OMO has been adopted by most international schools and projects, the missing part during the past may only be the live-streamed courses. But after practicing within two months, we cannot deny that younger students are not suitable for online teaching, given that long-time of using screens will cause children’s vision impairment, plus, they are always having ongoing trouble with focus.

Therefore, for students in kindergartens, how teachers are coping with the difficulties amid the long closure of schools? “We’ve started to prepare for teaching online since the beginning of this February. Whittle’s Global Chief Information and Technology Officer has partnered with our Shenzhen team to develop an online platform named RingCentral,” introduced by Lily Li, China Chancellor at Whittle School& Studios.

What is more difficult for international schools is that offline odds like classroom setup and immersive interactions are gradually weakening when making the transition to an online format. But Whittle School regards that teaching online could be more efficient. “There are many online tools available for immersive language teachings like No red ink and Newsella, which have more advantages, such as data tracking, student management, level-learning, and adaptive Qbank.” Said Lily. With the teaching model of small-sized class and sufficient foreign staff, Whittle also enables every student to get language tutoring and communicate with peers in English online.

Angela Xu, Head of Kindergarten in Shenzhen Campus of Avenues World School, suggested that online teaching for younger students can also have some advantages. “Talking in the classroom may always be interrupted by peers, while children can listen to each other online.” These weeks, foreign teachers at Shenzhen Campus of Avenues used Zoom to communicate with children for 10 to 15 minutes a day.

Partnership with Parents


“Why can’t we play outside? Why can’t we go to school?”

When providing children with the right information, explaining the coronavirus in appropriate terms is very important. Apart from incorporating coronavirus prevention and control related content like hand-washing into parenting education courses, games, and picture books, Avenues World School’s Shenzhen team also shared the timetable posted in the classroom, which was co-set by teachers and children.

“We’ve always been emphasizing that schools and parents are in great need of close partnership to combat the virus and make students get prepared for school’s offline reopen. For international kindergarten students, trying to keep good habits like regular mealtimes and bedtimes couldn’t be ignored either.” Said Angela Xu.

“Uncertainty under the COVID-19 crisis may create stress and can lead to some big emotions for kids, so it is necessary to provide a sense of regularity by keeping the daily routines.” Said Lily from Whittle. When moving online, Whittle Shenzhen does not cancel the PE, music, and art class, which needs more support from parents when children are learning at home. “We encourage parents to make handicrafts with their kids, like using waste plastic to make a vacuum cleaner.” 

To help parents deal with stress, schools also keep communication with them through email. As for the issue that parents are worried about, schools have also proposed corresponding solutions if foreign teachers cannot return when schools reopen offline. Lily told JMDedu: “Those teachers who are temporarily unable to return can still teach online, and Chinese teachers will organize students to watch live-stream courses at the classroom.” 

Angela Xu also said: “If the travel restrictions are still carried out, most courses will be taught by Chinese teachers, with English resources as a supplement. Foreign teachers who have returned will take turns to communicate with children in different classes.” Moreover, Avenues also decided to extend this semester to July 31st, six weeks more than the normal, to provide more opportunities for children to be able to get on with their teachers.

Although the teaching affairs are being carried out normally, the “suspension of international exchange programs” is indeed the significant pressure faced by international schools, which also becomes one of the main contradictions between parents and schools at the current stage. A related teacher from Moonshot Academy told JMDedu that the on-site visiting programs before applying for universities may move online if the epidemic is still severe in August.

Cooperation with Global Campuses

As the coronavirus has been spreading globally, the campuses in New York and São Paulo of Avenues World School had accumulated several weeks of online teaching experiences before the Shenzhen campus started. “But the practice is mainly for secondary school students, given that we only have kindergarten students in Shenzhen, we’re now moving forward together to develop more online courses for little kids.” Said Angela Xu. Relying on the school’s R&D team, Avenues Shenzhen has been providing home-based projects for younger students, with one-on-one online tutoring from teachers. Also, students could share their work with classmates via an online platform.

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“The coronavirus knows no borders, while international education knows no border either.” Whittle School’s China team has shared their OMO experience with Washington campus, helping the American students to study online. At the meanwhile, the Chinese technical team also cooperated with Italian schools through online meetings to jointly overcome the global challenges posed by the epidemic.

Prospects of China’s international education

“International education in China may face significant change, but it’s not going to disappear, reflected by both short-term and long-run impacts.” Said Wu Yue, the founder of NewSchool Insight Media, a China-based international school service platform.

The coronavirus epidemic may positively impact China’s international schools in the next six months to one year, regarding more than 1.6 million younger overseas students go back to the country, and international schools will become their first choice for continuing study. “But newly opened schools this September will suffer more hardship. Parents will be more cautious when deciding since they are unable to visit the campus.”

In addition, industry insider analyzed that the short-term economic downturn and complex global issues caused by the COVID-19 outbreak will sharply reduce the overseas education demand from Chinese students, which is estimated to decline by 20%.

In the long run, Chinese parents will reinterpret international education and be more rational when considering which is the best “growing path” for their children, including job prospects and career development. Wu Yue also believes that the epidemic will prompt international schools to clear their education objectives further, thus push back a series of adjustments in the curriculum and the proportion of Chinese and foreign teachers, etc.

During the past, although the Chinese government had some regulations for international schools at the compulsory education stage, few of them have reacted. “But this time, schools should make significant change driven by the market demand.” Said Wu Yue.