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What started as a temporary solution last year became an official measure in the COVID-19 education playbook in Vietnam this year.

Last month, the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training announced that the first half of the 2021–2022 school year will take place entirely online. Students will learn via pre-recorded lessons and virtual classrooms. The department is partnering with the municipal television station to film virtual lessons; around 10 weeks of courses have been recorded so far.

Middle- and high-school students already began their year yesterday, September 6, while elementary school children will start lessons from September 20. First-graders and their teachers are to take a week before the date to prepare for the formal classroom environment.

On the first day, education activities already faced numerous setbacks across grades and household situations. According to the Director of the HCMC Department of Education and Training Nguyễn Văn Hiếu, many students, even those in metropolitan Saigon, have encountered difficulties with learning devices and internet connection. Teachers, on the other hand, are struggling with non-standardized teaching platforms and software.

Hiếu shared preliminary data compiled by the department showing that over 57,000 out of 600,000 primary school kids in Saigon don’t have enough home resources to study online. For middle and high school levels, 17,000 out of 700,000 students either don’t have studying devices or internet access; while over 5,000 others have at least a smartphone or laptop for learning, but no internet.

Because of the outbreak, 8,000 students from sixth to twelfth grades can’t do online learning at the moment for a variety of reasons: they have COVID-19, their family has COVID-19, they are undergoing treatment at a medical facility, their household has many students but only one smart device, etc.

For those who are lucky enough to overcome those hurdles, the situation is still grim online. Yesterday morning, nearly all middle and high schools in Saigon using the K12 Online teaching portal could not connect to their virtual classrooms or experienced choppy performance, reports Tuoi Tre. The software is one of eight online learning platforms approved by the education department.

So far, some of the challenges have been tackled with temporary solutions. Teachers have temporarily switched to other group chat platforms while waiting for K12 Online to be fixed. A number of schools have taken the initiative to launch donation drives seeking old-but-usable smart devices to assist students in need. Some teachers have resorted to spreadsheets and printed-out slides for students without internet access, but those are unsustainable in the long run.

[Photo via Hoa Mai]

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