School Students at Home during COVID-19: Parents Speak of the Challenges

A young student is hard at work, attending class at home with his digital tools. Photo provided by Leang Vanthy.

They face with limited time and online learning-tool knowledge, some parents are concerned

PHNOM PENH--As classrooms across the country have now moved online due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), some Cambodian parents see as positivity that they are able to monitor their children and better understand their attitudes, aptitudes and knowledge. But others feel they can’t devote the time and don’t have enough distance-learning knowledge to help them succeed in class.

Heng Sokny, who works at the FM 102 radio station, usually spends her lunchtime and after-work time with her children—one is in kindergarten and the other in grade one—to help them prepare electronic devices so they can study online. 

According to Sokny, she spends between four to five hours a day doing this, which enables her to observe and understand more about her children’s level of knowledge as well as their mindset.

“Frankly speaking, having small children staying closed to their parents is better than having them at schools,” Sokny said. “When we stay close to them, of course we can better learn about their mindset or their feelings, their actual knowledge as well as their behavior. With this, we can learn to better handle them.” 

While acknowledging that specific methods are applied at schools to evaluate children’s performance, she added, “[w]e cannot fully learn about [our children] as we, as parents, only receive the reports from their teachers.”    

Sok Thary, who runs a home-based business and is the mother of a 4-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, also feels that helping her children with distance learning not only allows her to learn more about them but also to build strong family bonds.

“Generally speaking as a parent, I notice that, since they stay with us 24 hours a day…we learn a lot about them,” she said. “And they feel loved, too. But the problem is we don’t have that much time to play with them because I also have to be responsible for my own business.” 

Distance education: learning not as effective as in school  

While allowing them to build closer relationships with their children, parents point out that distance learning does not mean that their children can better learn. 

Since students at school are in an environment designed for them to study and learn, home-based learning requires a great deal of parental support in order to be as effective, Thary said.

“As I also have a business at home, I am busy until 7 or 8 pm despite the fact that I stay home 24 hours a day,” she said. “Thus, it can’t be on a regular basis that I can manage to help teach or assist [my children] do their homeworks.”

“So, I noticed that their [level of learning] has declined compared to when they were studying at school,” Thary said.  

Sokny agreed that it is impossible for most parents to spend as much time as they would like to play with their children or help them study.

“As we normally work eight hours a day and our children do not go to school, we have to spend more time with them, and it sometimes affects our work,” Sokny said. “Most importantly, we can rarely manage to speak to them in a child’s language and play with them as they want us to.

“But what I can do now is try to prioritize and manage time,” she stressed. 

In addition to requiring time some parents can hardly spare, their level of knowledge and digital literacy may also impede their children’s ability to properly study and learn. 

“Regarding technological devices, I can use smartphones and computer well with no difficulty,” Sokny said. “This is because I’m working in an industry that most of the time involves technology.” 

But not every parent is able to use digital devices with sufficient skills to support their children’s learning, she added.  

Leang Vanthy, who works for a private company, says that it has been difficult for him to provide a parental support for his child who is kindergarten as he lacks knowledge in foreign langue and the use of digital tools.   

“I have no experience teaching my own son,” he said. “And most importantly, I don’t know much English or how to use a computer. Therefore, I must rely on [my son’s] teachers’ instructions.” 



Moving toward digital education 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic may last for some time, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport recently announced that schools, which were ordered to shut down due to the coronavirus, will remain closed until late this year, undeniably making digital literacy key in education from now on. 

According to Ros Soveacha, the ministry’s spokesperson, online teaching and learning is the ministry’s digital-education vision as stipulated in the education strategic plan 2019-2023. The government is trying to ensure that all students across the country have access to online learning platforms, he said. 

However, there still is a long way to go: Education Minister Hang Choun Naron recently revealed that, out of three million students countrywide, only about one third of them have access to digital tools such as smartphones and computers. 

To help boost virtual learning in the country, the ministry announced earlier this week the establishment of a center for digital and distance learning to help provide capacity building and support so that both students and teachers can effectively and quickly take advantage of the technology. According to Naron, the center, which will be located in Preah Sisowath High School in Phnom Penh, will include education video-production studios, a digital forum, smart classroom and data centers.       

Additional reporting by Sao Phal Niseiy





   


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