Reforming education in the post-COVID-19 era

August 12, 2020 06:00
Photo: Reuters

It’s been more than six months since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Hong Kong. Prof. Yuen Kwok-yung, chair of infectious diseases, faculty of medicine, HKU, has noted publicly that the pandemic is likely to last for 2 to 3 years. The education sector had expected to resume classes in the coming September (next month), although such hopes were quickly dashed by the announcement from Mr Kevin Yeung, Secretary for Education, which decried that all face-to-face classes and on-campus activities would be suspended until further notice.

After the largest de facto e-learning experiment in history, the results of the past months have been laid bare for all to see: there exists much room for improvement, and some critics are calling for compensation for the lack of off-line classes - which, according to them, is what bona fide education should in fact revolve around.

Frankly, it need not be a trade-off between online and offline – this dichotomy is a disingenuous and anachronistic one… And we should know this, from looking at Sngapore. Singapore has implemented a highly innovative and comprehensive “Learning Management System”. It’s high time for Hong Kong to catch up and pursue its own unique “Hybrid Learning Strategy”.

Student Learning Space (SLS) – Interactive Learning Environment for All

Just as Hong Kong and many other countries across the world, Singapore suspended its classes from April to May. Yet unlike its Singaporean counterpart, Hong Kong’s education sector had little to no access to the plethora of e-learning tools and products that the Lion City had, such as the Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS,

Singapore launched the Student Learning Space (SLS) platform in 2016. The SLS was jointly developed by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Government Technology Agency (GovTech). A pilot scheme was launched in 2016. Aiming to support students in self-directed learning at school and beyond the classroom, this new platform, also known as “Learning Management System”, was based on the instructions of the ICT Connection Masterplan 4(Mp4). The MoE has identified Mp4(2015-2020) as pivotal to the strategic transformation and enhancement of learning, with its augmenting the overall curriculum beyond the conventional modes of collaborative and self-directed learning (CoL & SDL). Mp4 focuses on students and staff’s using ICT productively to develop knowledge and skills for 21st Century Competencies.

This online learning portal was rolled out to all schools, spanning primary schools to Junior College (JCs) in 2018. Schools, education experts, and parents have different roles to play using the platform. Teachers were empowered to explore new possibilities in adapting the national curriculum to the unique contexts of the schools, so as to enhance students' learning. Choosing the material produced by teachers themselves or education experts, for instance, meant that every move by the students will be recorded, analysed and visualized on the platform. Both teachers and external assessors thus found it much easier to review the students’ performance through the system.

Concurrently, the SLS also enabled students to participate anonymously in the class activities; this encouraged them to answer the questions freely without much pressure or anxiety in the classroom. Even if the outbreak and ensuing lockdown measures do indeed recur, the students will have then been equipped with the necessary knowledge to work with the interface.

Hybrid Learning, also known as blended learning mixing online and in-person learning, has been effectively adopted by the SLS. With the instructions of teachers, students will conduct learning actively and casually. Having the materials centrally developed by the government and selected experts also aided with equalising the learning experience across all schools.

E-learning alone cannot meet the needs of Hong Kong’s education system

Hong Kong launched The 4th Strategy on IT in Education(ITE4) in 2015. ITE4 focuses on school’s WiFi covering, implementation of mobile devices, development of the e-book market and e-learning resources. Compared to Singapore Mp4, It showed the foresight of the government.

It’s high time for the Education Bureau (EDB) to turn to cultivating a “Hybrid Learning Strategy” and developing an official “Learning Management System” (LMS) for primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong.

What would such a Hybrid Learning Strategy look like?

(1) Promulgating self-discipline in students

Teaching a man how to fish is by far more important than handing the man a single fish. Much of the existing literature on e-learning suggests that self-discipline is of paramount importance to effective home learning whilst classes are suspended. A well-disciplined education requires the student to demonstrably take initiative over their learning.

(2) Narrowing the resource gap through offering resources - e.g. internet connection and laptops

The key success factors of promoting e-learning is the student’s hardware and internet connectivity. Some NGOs launched several subsidies for computer and internet service. Unfortunately, some students still faced the problems of hardware or internet connectivity. For example, slow speed in internet connectivity and inferior performance of hardware. Some of them went back to the I.T. at school finally. So as to nurture our next generation, it is high time for us to invest more into the unlimited possibilities in our students’ e-learning.

(3) School-based proportioning of face-to-face and online learning

To deliver the best experience of hybrid learning, different schools have their own proportion of face-to-face and online learning due to the school-based policy. School leadership and teachers should plan the suitable strategy due to the learning differences.

In the experiment of e-learning in the past few months, both teachers and students agreed that the poor learning environment and interaction led to the bad result of studies. In these issues, students were accustomed to wear the uniform for schooling and taught near the teacher; Teachers also distinguish students in the classroom. Effective e-learning experience does not constitute purely replicating what we do for face-to-face learning, but conducting interrelated educational research for online learning norms and usefulness.

With the great support of LMS, in addition to showing educational multimedia, the platform also allows students to join the class with their own devices. Students have more control over their learning experience by self-directed and enquiry-based learning. With the instructions by the teacher through the system, self-defined goals, self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and self-revision are possible for students themselves or related stakeholders to review the performance and target the learning differences.

Hybrid Learning synthesises the advantages of face-to-face and online learning. After rigorous professional training and development, teachers can integrate the past experience and new knowledge. Parents also need to change their concept about “watching video or animation are not learning”.

Singapore’s MoE only took 2 years to move from the pilot scheme to a completed platform. EDB, the most important organ in Hong Kong’s education, must kickstart the whole policy process soon, such as public consulting, feasibility and adaptability study.

To sum up, the new system is our best shot at narrowing the education resource gap by offering the same resource with the internet. And it is the best investment for solving one of our core educational problems. Now is the time for us to pursue a better education for our future generations.

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BEd (Chinese History) at EdUHK