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Swine Flu Shuts Down Schools, Classes Resume Online

Francesca Ayala |
June 22, 2009 | 12:07 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

HONG KONG -- Several primary and secondary schools around the city that have closed to curb the continuing spread of swine flu are now implementing online instruction programs so students can keep up with the curriculum from home.


More than 300 people in Hong Kong have tested positive for the A(H1N1) virus, a number that has tripled in one week. The virus' first domestic case was found in a group of secondary school students last week. As a result, the Hong Kong government shut down all nursery schools, kindergartens and primary schools. Secondary schools are closing on a case by case basis, depending on whether their students have tested positive for swine flue or not.


While some schools have shut down and declared an early summer vacation, others have decided to resume lessons in the virtual classroom to keep their students safe and up to date with their studies. This "distance larning," employs online interactive programs that enable instructors and students to communicate. Teachers distribute course material and homework assignments via the Internet, and students pass back the work once they've completed it.


"It is surprising how technologically savvy children are getting from a young age," said Cameron Reed, a primary school teacher at the Australian International School. At the time of the interview, his students were going online to solve puzzles sent out earlier that morning.


Parents of students at Parkview International Pre-Schools can now access the school's website to download weekly assignments and steo-by-step activities for subjects such as language, math, arts and crafts, science, cooking and even physical education. Accommodating this new, web-based system has been easy for her students, said school principal Debi Li.


"Little kids adapt very well, probably more than what most people give them credit for," she said.


Paul White, a technology adviser for the English Schools Foundation, said the city's history with virus outbreaks was reason enough for schools to prepare alternative methods of instruction. Around 40 years ago, the Hong Kong flu killed about 1 million people. In 2003, SARS killed nearly 300 people.


"These things happen all the time," he said.


Resuming classes on the Web has been a relatively sommeth transition because online learning is already a standard component of the syllabus at several learning institutions around Hong Kong. This dichotomy, teachers said, makes for a more personalized educational experience, as it is tailored to meet the unique needs of each student.


"Students have embraced the technology," said Reed. "They see the integration of ICT as a logical progression in their school life. Most of our students are high end users and are prepared to investigate new and exciting ways to access the curriculum."


School teacher Joanne Townson said that her two daughters, aged 6 and 9, were already very familiar with working and coomunicating online because it is part of their school's information technology program. When school had to close, teachers phoned Townson and her daughters to explain the process of accessing lessons and submitting homework online.


"My kids do at least four hours of work every day," said Townson. "The communication's been excellent and I'm impressed with the school's crisis management skills."



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