2021: The year that kept students out of school and glued to screens
For millions of students in Thailand, 2021 has been a year of online classes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt their schooling.
When virus cases began surging earlier this year, most schools in Bangkok and other provinces with high infection rates chose to suspend on-site classes. This meant that students had to study online at home instead of with their classmates and teachers.
Students have also had to get serious about long-term online learning as the reality of the pandemic sinks in. The highly contagious virus is lingering despite a high vaccination rate that saw more than 60 percent of the population double-jabbed as of this week.
Last year, youngsters may have taken it easy, thinking they would be back in their classroom soon. However, the emergence of variants like Alpha and Delta, and now the highly transmissible Omicron, has dashed their hopes.
With the COVID-19 situation under control for most of 2020, schools were able to reopen after the initial scare prompted their closure. However, when 2021 kicked off with a second wave, schools in affected areas were forced to return to online classes.
The Alpha variant then unleashed a ferocious third wave in March, killing children’s hopes of getting back to class and their friends. Barely a month later, the Delta variant reared its head to trigger a fourth wave. While the virus had little impact on students during their April to May school break, it meant most students returned to online classes for the rest of the year.
Reluctant to re-open schools while the virus crisis was still raging, the Education Ministry repeatedly postponed the start of the 2021 academic year. Schools were supposed to open on May 17, but the start date was delayed to June 1, then June 14, and eventually to July 1.
In provinces where the infection rate was low, parents were given the choice of sending their kids back to school or having them attend online classes. In provinces with high infection rates, like Bangkok, schools were given the choice of alternative education methods, such as distance-learning TV, on-demand (applications), and online classes, as well as assignment-based learning. For other provinces, schools could choose a hybrid format of on-site and online lessons.
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry came up with the “Kru Prom” online platform to help students and teachers catch up with the curriculum.
Virtual learning during lockdown has been a brand new experience for all students and parents, with both doing their best to come up with the best way to create an effective learning environment. Not everyone is able to make the most of this technological transformation, though and many are struggling with burnout as they try to adjust to the new normal of online schooling.
Slow shift to normality
Surveys show that most students, parents and teachers want proper schooling to resume, but COVID-19 is still blocking the road back to normal education.
Despite the government rushing to roll out jabs for students aged 12 to 18, most schools remain closed for on-site learning over fears COVID-19 could erupt in classrooms.
Struggling with new mode of learning
Many students have struggled with online lessons because teachers are loading them with assignments and homework to check if the kids are actually paying attention in class.
Children, especially the very young, find it difficult to concentrate in front of a screen all day.
In addition to being overloaded with homework, youngsters have also been deprived of daily interaction with their peers as well as opportunities to develop social and life skills.
Many parents are increasingly worried about their children’s development. Their fears are compounded by education experts, who point out that the benefits of attending school extend beyond academic progress to all facets of a child’s development.
So, while children’s safety remains the top priority, most parents in Thailand are desperate for the “year of online learning” to end soon, and schools to reopen permanently.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk