Mass closing of schools both primary and secondary in response to the virus’ spread hasn’t happened, yet. And while secondary students will probably be used to working online and self-directing the challenge of teaching primary school children without a teacher being in the room is tougher.
At the moment, primary schools do not seem to have been doing very much to pre-empt the virus’ arrival according to MAPPEN who deliver an online curriculum to the primary sector. The company works with 350 schools across Australia, with approximately 4000 teachers representing around 80,000 students.
Danny Ritterman Co-founder and CEO says that they’ve been watching the situation and putting together a response that would help primary age children to continue to learn if there are widespread school closures.
“We've been monitoring the situation closely for the past few weeks, especially looking at how countries where the spread was much wider are handling things. It's been obvious for a while that if an outbreak does happen school closures are pretty much inevitable.
“From there we figured it would be better to be prepared just in case schools here are forced to close so we've been thinking about how we can adapt our existing online curriculum solution designed for teachers in schools to be accessible by the students directly,” he says.
Schools haven’t rushed to put together a response as of yet he says, preferring to wait and see how the situation pans out before adjusting their teaching. Luckily it seems the virus does not affect small children as badly as the frail and aged.
“As recently as last week, schools did not have a contingency plan for closures. Over the last couple of days, we have spoken to a few dozen schools; they are having meetings and preparing for an online classroom,” Ritterman says.
There are some challenges delivering remotely to primary aged children around direction and the children’s maturity.
“Aside from the obvious issue that not everyone has a computer or internet access at home, there are also challenges around engagement, accessibility, self-direction, autonomy and literacy.
“In addition, many of our existing lessons are designed with the concept of classroom discussions, group work and collaborative activities. We imagine there will be far fewer opportunities for this sort of group work if students are isolated at home,” he says.
MAPPEN has worked to deliver a response quickly by adapting their lesson plans so they can be delivered at home and guided in part by parents.
“We are working to simplify the lesson plans so that they can be read by students (or for the younger students’ parents), making all instructions available as both text and audio file (using Text-to-Speech) and modifying the tasks themselves to be shorter and more engaging. We're also modifying them to rely less on group work as many students will be required to do them in their own time and on their own.
“We're lucky that as a lean team we can move fast on things like this. Ensuring that any system we build is simple, clear and flexible for teachers and students in a multitude of different situations.”
The company is continually evolving their content so it matches what is being done in schools.
“We are working on adapting our content to be accessible both to the teacher but now also to the students directly. The plan at this stage is that teachers will be able to give students a link along with their own personal code and then be able to set tasks for the students to complete at home,” he says.
“We have an in-house curriculum team who map out the various K-6 curriculum requirements from around the country, then generate units of work to meet them. Our units are concept based and are continually being adapted and reworked.”