Will online education replace real classes after epidemic?

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, March 9, 2020
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Dang Fei, the founder and president of the Feilanyuan Calligraphy School, an extracurricular training center focusing on pen-and-pencil calligraphy for schoolchildren, has closed her classroom in Zhongguancun, one of the business and technological hubs of Beijing, since the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I was stressed when the class was suspended as there were rents and labor costs to cover," she recalled.

Dang moved to Beijing after graduation as a master in calligraphy in 2014.

Like lots of small businesspeople, who have resumed operations online to offset losses caused by the shutdown amid the epidemic, Dang has live-streamed her classes, opening a window of opportunity for her.

"It drives me to think more about the online teaching approach. I will just combine online and offline training when the epidemic ends," she said.

With normal schooling delayed amid the epidemic, online teaching has been booming with students asked to stay at home to prevent the disease from further spreading, according to The Paper, an online media outlet based in Shanghai.

A fundamental change has occurred in the education industry as more than five million students from over 10,000 educational institutes across 20 provincial-level regions are supposed to study at home through online curricula, it reported last month.

In addition, according to the iiMedia Research, a Chinese online consulting platform, the market size of this form of education is projected to reach 453.8 billion yuan ($65.44 billion) this year, a year-on-year increase of 49.7 billion yuan.

However, despite the strong momentum of the burgeoning industry, its future remains unclear.

Niu Tian, assistant research fellow from the Journalism and Mass Communication Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), believes the future of online education, a makeshift option in a particular time, is as much unforeseeable and uncontrollable as a Schroedinger's Cat. Therefore, regardless how advanced the Internet-plus may grow, it can never shake the foundation of traditional education.

According to her, the extant online education can be analyzed through two different market targets, namely, customer and business sides.

"Based on the first model, online education has become the best temporary option to resume ordinary education amid the epidemic. However, in the long run, it still needs to be valued by rigid demands, such as, students' performances in entrance examinations and their professional competence in job market," she said.

According to Niu, such kind of education has been realized by two different approaches. One is to show videos filmed by the teachers in advance and the other involves live webcasts with interaction.

"The first approach, which is hard to reflect the feedback of the classes as a result of insufficient interactions, completely depends on students' self-disciplinary abilities which are hard to achieve by younger learners," Niu said.

"However, the second one, which can enable full participation of the students monitored on screens, has taken more efforts than usual by teachers who have to discipline the class in remote control," she continued.

At the same time, some online education providers have chosen to focus on the business side, either providing contents purchased by education authorities or through technological support only. According to Niu, both models face difficulty in becoming the mainstream.

"The essential part of education lies not in the answers and solutions that the educators provide for students to grasp, but rather in the qualities and personalities that the teachers have demonstrated in and beyond classes and such kind of influence best illustrates the meaning of education," she said.

Teachers, either from public schools or extracurricular training centers, are expected to meet their students in real classes as some have indicated teaching will become more interesting with person-to-person communication rather than through computers.

"I will resume my face-to-face teaching when the epidemic ends," Dang insisted.

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