[Reportage] S. Korean schools begin online semester with no serious problems

Posted on : 2020-04-10 17:52 KST Modified on : 2020-04-10 18:12 KST
Minor issues include server problems and login issues, and videos cutting in and out
Twins in their third year of high school begin their spring semester online at home on Apr. 9. (Lee Jong-keun, staff photographer)
Twins in their third year of high school begin their spring semester online at home on Apr. 9. (Lee Jong-keun, staff photographer)

“All right, I’m going to call your names in the order they appear on the roster. When I get to you, turn on your audio and say ‘Here.’ I also want you to raise your hand so I can see you.”

The time was 8:10 am on Apr. 9, in Homeroom 5 of third-year students at Seoul Girls’ High School in Seoul’s Mapo District. Homeroom teacher Kim Woo-young, 33, began reading off the names of pupils she had never met before. The students -- most of them wearing masks even though they were at home -- cheerfully greeted their teacher and friends on the other side of the camera with vigorous waves.

“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of issues, but I want you to make sure to attend the morning assembly and follow my directions,” Kim told them.

“Let’s meet again for our end-of-day meeting this afternoon,” she added.

On Apr. 9, third-year students at middle and high schools nationwide began their spring semester online, participating in remote classes that will count as regular classes. Remote classes have taken various forms, adopting real-time interactive communication and incorporating content from EBS lectures and content produced by individual teachers. The mood in the classes has been generally subdued -- but students could not conceal their excitement and happiness over attending their first classes in a long while. In one third period English class conducted in a real-time interactive format at Soongmoon Middle School in Seoul’s Mapo District, one of the students waved and danced for observing Hankyoreh reporters.

To maintain structure in the students’ daily rhythms, Soongmoon has developed schedules with real-time interactive classes for the first two periods, content-incorporating classes for the third and fourth, and assignment-based classes for the afternoon after lunchtime.

Teachers also announced plans to provide assignments that can be performed without too much hassle for third-year high school students awaiting their university entrance examination. Lee Gyeong-ju, who teaches an elective psychology class under an interactive format for the first period of Homeroom 3 for third-year students at Seoul Girls’ High School, reassured her students, “Don’t worry. This is your third year of high school, so I’ll be assigning practical tasks that involve finding real-life examples without too much difficulty.”

After finishing the class, which incorporated psychological testing and video materials, one student wrote, “This was the first time I’ve ever had a class like this, so I was really looking forward to it and I was also really nervous, but it was fun.”

It was the first time that a semester had ever been begun online, however, and some moments of awkwardness did arise during classes. Third-year Homeroom 5 at Seoul Girls’ High School has a total of 23 students, but two of them were absent from the online morning assembly that day without giving notice beforehand. During the first period psychology class, the sound briefly cut out in one of the videos, forcing the teacher to explain the content. At Soongmoon Middle School, 44 out of 137 third-year students were unable to attend the online opening ceremony at 9 am that day due to problems with Google login and other issues.

As some had predicted, problems also arose with the EBS server. Song Won-seok, a 44-year-old teacher who heads the research department at Seoul Girls’ High School, explained, “At around seven this morning, I went to upload videos to the EBS server for next week’s classes, and I ended up having to give up when the upload still hadn’t finished two to three hours later.”

Despite the moments of confusion, teachers were generally hopeful that the remote classes might provide an opportunity for innovation in education. Yoon Seok-joon, a 58-year-old teacher of English at Soongmoon Middle School, said, “It’s something that even an old teacher like me who isn’t accustomed to IT can handle.”

“We’re in a process of ironing out the problems right now, but I think this online semester could lead to some growth in terms of educational content and structure,” he predicted.

By Lee Yu-jin, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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