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Lessons learned during our Covid-19 closure at the Renaissance International School of Saigon, Vietnam

| October 28, 2020 | 0 Comments


The nightmare all started in early February 2020 when we returned from our Vietnamese lunar new year ‘Tet’ holidays1 and heard the distant rumblings of the coronavirus that was on the march.

We were then informed that Vietnam’s schools would be closed until further notice.

Fortunately, teachers were initially allowed to teach online from school, so it was much easier to exchange new digital tips and learn best practices before launching into your online classroom alone. Microsoft Teams became the school backbone, with additional apps such as Zoom and Flip-grip in valuable support.

Class time quickly became Facetime, classroom banter was replaced by chat streams and life soon shrank into a digital screen. Interestingly, both teachers and students found that online learning was not all bad and was often better suited to the more introverted students. It just went on too long!

It was mid-March 2020 when we first experienced real coronavirus-induced panic. It ignited the school one Thursday with the discovery that one of our teachers – ironically participating in a school coronavirus hand-washing dance challenge – had been in contact with someone who had socialised with someone who ‘tested positive’. Suddenly we realised how silently this pandemic could spread and how vulnerable we all were.

We were instructed to return home immediately, and it was during the next mind-numbing six weeks that we began to discover the real loneliness of quarantine and social distancing.

Learning new soft skills

Human contact was what everyone missed, and as a school counsellor it was a challenge to help both staff and students communicate their frustrations and find purpose in this limited life. Looking back, while we were battling with Zoom fatigue, webinar overkill and self-isolation, we were also learning valuable soft skills.

We desperately began to compensate with group video calls, online pizza parties and quiz nights, and to learn new interpersonal skills.

‘I’ve learned the importance of effective communication. You need to say what you mean, as miscommunication is so easy online,’ explained a Year 13 student.

‘I felt lonely. Classmates always made the mood loud and active in class, but they were at first quiet when they were in a group call,’ said a Year 7 student.

Teachers said students were often reluctant to turn on their video cameras, which made communication more of a challenge, especially to read participation level or understanding. Some students felt so isolated they didn’t engage at all, and it was a huge challenge to find ways of weaning them in through individual video calls or parental assistance.

Along with improving digital proficiency, we also learned resilience and self-discipline. It was difficult to get dressed in the morning when you knew you weren’t going anywhere, but if you went through your routine of meals, lessons and exercise, there was the reward of perhaps a Netflix movie afterwards.

‘I learned that at the end of the day, you can only rely on yourself to push through tough times, especially when others around you are also struggling,’ admitted a Year 13 student. ‘I learnt how to entertain myself,’ said one student, while another said proudly, ‘It taught me how to be patient with my parents!’

Dealing with disappointments

Of course, another major challenge was that examinations were cancelled for final-year students, who were relying on their International Baccalaureate (IB) results for university applications and other ventures.

‘I will remember the day the IB exams were cancelled for the rest of my life. I wasn’t exactly sure how to react after two years of hard work – suddenly there was nothing to work for,’ admitted a Year 13 student.

Another disappointment came with news that social distancing regulations would prevent a graduation ceremony or dinner – but then that changed, and we were given permission to have a ceremony with limited numbers and social distancing.

A remarkable achievement

With just over 300 cases and no deaths, in a population of nearly 98 million people, Vietnam has done remarkably well, because the government was quick to act with public health campaigns and restrictions. Students have now returned to school and restrictions are slowly lifting, but those memories and lessons will stay for a while.



Category: Spring 2020

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