Is “Schooling from Bed” A Utopia or Dystopia? Reconsidering Education


undefined Amane: Japan
Student, currently studying Media Studies at Peking University

Junyang: Singapore
Teacher, currently teaching in China

Ayano: Japan 
NPO founder dedicated in Education

undefined Jin: Malaysia
Yogi/entrepreneur, currently teaching Yoga in Malaysia

Syen: South Korea
Engineer, currently working in Hong Kong

Pem: The Philippines 
Currently working at a logistic startup in the Philippines

Moderator / editor: Kaori, Ayano

How Are You E-Teaching and E-Learning?

Amane (Japan): My classes have all been online and the semester is almost over now. I found big classes to be more difficult to be held online than small classes. It’s so difficult to keep everyone concentrated and make sure everyone listens to a teacher for the whole two hours. But if it is a small class or session, all the students are talking during the class, which is much easier. 

Thankfully, at Peking University where I study, we can have the access to almost all the paper journals to do our assignments online. But I was very shocked and surprised when my friends at the University of Tokyo told me that they can only search the titles online and they eventually still need to go to the library to read them. 

Kaori: And Junyang, How are you teaching kids during this time? 

Junyang (Singapore): I am using Zoom. It is more convenient to teach online in some aspects. For example, if it’s a very textual base class, you want to show them the text directly. In a physical class, you need a projector and a pointer to show whatever you are looking at. When with Zoom, you can show your screen directly on the text. It is also convenient for students as well, they can record classes directly and review them as they like. 

But of course, I am not thinking this is excellent because you lose very important aspects.  

There is a pedagogy for language-teaching that I have been training, which is called ‘total physical response’ as you can imagine this is not possible by a Zoom. As the name suggest, it requires physical interaction. So, you can imagine that some pedagogies established by educators, might be completely irrelevant. 

Despite the convenience, I still prefer to be teaching in person because you need to see them, you need to look at their body language.

Syen (S.Korea) : In South Korea, semester usually starts in March. This year, they postponed the initiation to April, fully online. Now that another cluster infection has happened after the first breakouts got contained, we are to cooperate in two ways; online class and selective homeschooling.

For secondary schools, no matter what they offer online, it doesn’t make a huge difference in the learning progress because Korean school kids actually learn everything from cram school, not at school. Especially in Seoul Gangnam area, parents sometimes ask schools not to give much homework as kids need to study at cram schools. However, homeschooling causes two problems. 

First, there is a number of double-income parents in Korea, who have little time to look after  their kids’ school assignments. Second issue is with the students in high school senior year unable to attend school, as they need this thing called “School Life Report (學校生活記錄簿)” for university admission, which can be done only in face-to-face communication with teachers.

To tackle this, universities have shifted to more collaborative/project-based learning from traditional-style one. It usually means that you take lectures online and you go to the campus only when needed for projects. 

Pem (The Philippines): Usually, our school year starts in June. But this year the schools close until August 24th, which now seems likely to be postponed at least two more months. The biggest problem is how to deal with teaching kids at home when parents are full-time workers.

Junyang: I recently saw a news article saying that Duterte announced that all schools are closed with a non-end date. During the stoppage of schools, they do not have any education material at all or they continue online learning?

Pem: They do not have any during the period. Right now the department of education are preparing for the documents that children can learn in the meantime. But unlike South Korea, the vast majority in Philippine public schools are middle-class or lower-income students, many of which have neither internet connection or devices capable of doing online-learning. A lot of children use smartphone or go to internet cafes to do our homework or for printing. 

What Do You Say to 100% Virtual Class

Jin (Malaysia): I feel people are quite eager to go back to study in a physical classroom due to many problems with e-learning right now. 

I teach Yoga for my part-time job. Some of the working adults seem to find it better to do Yoga online. So, our Yoga studio owner just established a new system to have both virtual and physical classes when studio is open again. In the future, they might be lazy to drive all the way to the Yoga studio. Personally, if I can choose as a student, I would rather choose a more famous teacher online somewhere else rather than a random teacher teaching in a local studio.

But the reason why people love physical classes is because of the personal adjustments by the teacher with physical contacts. For academic education too, I feel it is also the case that sitting in a classroom, interacting with people is very different from sitting in front of a screen which makes everything seems so virtual. Also, I think for teachers, teaching 30 kids on a Zoom, would be extremely difficult as you don’t know whether students pay attention or not. But I do see a lot of industries switching to half e-learning and half practical curricular in the future.

Junyang: In regards to ‘physical or virtual’ question, I’d tend to recall the period where e-books first came up. Everyone thought reading the screen would never be the same way as holding the book, but right now, we all are reading the screen all the time. This “authentic feel” is the same kind of dispute that went on with the invention of the printing press first came out, too. 

So I’m thinking, for this generation with previous experiences in physical school we might find it is far-fetched idea to be conducting lessons totally online. But later on, when students begin with virtual classes from the start, it might be difficult for them to conceptualize a school where people have to come together. For these “future generation”, assuming that they would not feel this strangeness of not to have been at school, how likely it would be to be attending classes physically?

Jin: I think it is plausible. But for me, that would be a dystopia if people cannot even have a chance to sit together to get comfortable with meeting a group of people. With technologies like Zoom it could be possible, but it just takes a certain level of maturity. 

For e-books, when I was young, I just did not really appreciate it. But now I can pretty much enjoy reading on Kindle. And I think maturity places a certain level of importance in this too.

Removal of Schools:
Losing Safety-net, Widening Gaps

Pem: I think for many places it is infeasible to have online education for any extended periods of time.

I used to study and work in Chicago. A lot of people there who go to public schools are lower-income blacks. And one of the reasons why schools play a fundamental role in communities is that they have facilities that alleviate responsibility of parents. It means schools provide food, prime medical care, and take care of children when the parents are double-income and/or working multiple jobs. 

Schools are very functional and are vital part of public safety net. I just wonder if we have pandemics in the future again, how can we really make sure that these social safety net are still there even if the function of school education is gone? Should the governments open other centers to provide those functions that are in school? 

Jin: I think schools play a role of safety net as you mentioned, but more significantly in countries like Japan and South Korea. Because it is a huge middle-class society where a lot the parents both work. So no one can really take care of kids when the pandemic comes, which is one of the reasons why parents complained when schools close down in Japan in the beginning. 

But in Malaysia or in Southeast Asia, no one really complains about school being closed down, which I think is interesting. Here, everyone just stayed at home and a lot of people enjoyed their time with their kids as long as they don’t have financial burdens. But in Japan, because the enforcement was not so strict, parents still had to go to work and kids were alone at home. Is that right, Kaori?

Kaori: Yeah, in urban areas. And Syen, how are the people’s reactions to the home-learning in South Korea? Because there are mixed opinions in Japan about home-learning. Not just during COVID-19 but in general.

Syen: Some parents from middle-class and lower-income class tend to complain because they do not have time to care about their children. I imagine it is similar in Japan.

Amane: Yeah but I think, students appreciate home-learning more than the normal type of learning styles because they can attend classes from home in a more relaxed way.

Junyang: Is homeschooling legal in Japan?

Kaori: It can neither be said legal or illegal. Children from age 6 to 15 are supposed to go to school because elementary and junior high schools are mandatory, but the law does not specify the prohibition of homeschooling or learning-from-school or anything. But for high school, you just need to pass the test if you don’t want to attend.

Junyang: What about in Malaysia and Philippine? 

Pem: Just like Japan, it is not very much enforced. A lot of people who cannot afford the time choose not to go to school and learn at home, as some children are working to support their families. 

Jin: Home-schooling in Malaysia is legal because we believe in a democratic country. But I feel homeschooling here is mainly a practice by rich Christian. I have a few Christian family friends whose kids are taught homeschooling, and they have a community to support that too. But it takes a lot of resources because you have to hire private tutors to come home or to send them to a special school which provides basic studies and religious studies.

Personally, I think the trend of homeschooling is going to be a huge marginalizing gap for the poor because the rich would employ private tutors to teach at home during this period of time while the poor just stay at home and play with kids. So, this is a perfect opportunity for people who have the money and resource to take over as much as they can. As Malcolm Gladwell said in his book ‘Outliers’, this tiny gap would create a rolling effect on the future. 

Junyang: Maybe depending on how developed the digital environments are, the debate over “100% digital or not” would change. 

Daycare Center? TV? Radio?
What Replaces Schools

Amane: I wonder why they need a computer/laptop to do online education. All they need is a screen. They are not required to do anything with a computer actually. Why can’t we just connect our smartphone,  a TV screen, or something else? We need to find a way to make an alternative if so many cannot afford computers. 

Junyang: I think the problem with it is assignments. Online learning has exposed a lot of disparity in Singapore. Many people were shocked to find that there are still so many children and teenagers who do not have a computer. Some articles were covering that those children are going to the stairwell of flats to get better connection by using a mobile phone and having to type out the assignments on the mobile phone to submit it. Of course, assignments might not need the full capability of a laptop/computer as well. All you need is a word processor.

Jin: I feel like the best way to make it equal to everyone is the government having programs broadcasted on a TV channel. Everyone would just need to turn on the TV and see all the same content.

Junyang: That’s what they are doing in India already. And then another problem is some people do not have a TV. How do you guys think in your country that education, both in college and high school, would go completely online in the future or the way it seems right now? 

Syen: I think for lectures, the answer will be yes. But maybe for discussion or career consultation they may still need to visit school. 

Amane: But for some practical areas, like P.E. or Music, can they all be taught online?

Junyang: I’ve seen some videos in which teachers in P.E. exercise for students to follow. This is how professional athletes are training as well. So given this, I can sort of imagine this would subsequently happen for students, too.

Syen: I saw medical professors showing how to do surgery online.

Everyone: 😵😵😵😵😵😵

Ayano: If we have an online system for education, I think we need to re-consider the whole concepts of teacher, school, and education. During COVID-19, some are saying that if children can take classes of famous teachers online, teachers in local schools just need to support children to learn online. If this happens, no matter where they live, the quality of education might be the same.

Junyang: What you guys have talked sounds like eventually the concept of a school will change into something like a daycare center with online classes. 

In the future, maybe going to school will mean to go to a daycare center where you or a child are taken care of. Education is one, but daycare is the main thing. They go to this daycare center and attend online classes they are subscribing to.

The End of “Manufacturing” Students

Ayano: I was thinking about mental issues caused by online education. I read some articles about the possible increase in the number of school refusal after school closures in Japan. The school closure changed children’s habits and it is going to be a trigger to increase school refusals. If education is the thing only done at school, we need to force them to go back to school. But if we can see homeschooling or online-learning at the same level of school-learning, why do we need to get back children in school?

Pem: I am actually curious on this note, do people think the universal education system is ever possible? Do they really need an actual teacher to teach as long as when one student gets the wrong answer, they can just explain to them? For example, using AI if kids keep making similar mistakes, it keeps giving similar problems. So this is possible next “new normal education”, having something like that as a main source of education and teachers are to assist. So the students can go to school once a week and have a consultation or the teachers would repeat this material. Maybe we can think about that. 

Jin: Yeah, it is a great idea. If we can create a system like if you finish our course from grade one to six, you can do whatever you want to do in society or something. I found that 70-90% of what I studied in high/middle school were completely useless. So after the grade six, you can have a universal education system for mastering all the elements of languages and mathematics, maybe some natural science for people who want to be a doctor or something. That could be possible. 

Junyang: It might end up, there will be something like standardized tests and people around the world will just need to pass it. But how to pass those tests will be up to them. Since they would be all the classes are online so they can attend whatever classes they feel comfortable with, they feel the best help for him/her to pass the test, to get that “degree”.  

Amane: Also, the style of formal tests might be different in the future. I heard the graduate school of the University of Tokyo will change its way to do tests to focus more on the applicants’ critical thinking ability. They allow test-takers to use Google. So only their process, words, and thoughts will be evaluated. That is going to be the future way of examinations not just to memorize something but to search for what they are curious about.

Jin: Yeah, critical thinking is crucial because there is so much information online and you need to interpret misinformation that we discussed last time, what is valuable and beneficial or harmful to us.

I watched a video last year of my favorite company Mindvalley. He is talking about seven things that schools failed to teach us, like, how to take care of your body, how to find progress in your life, how to regulate your emotion, how to train your concentration skills, these are going to be more important in the future. I think this is the future of education.

What’s Your Utopian View of Education?

Syen: So in my opinion, it is going to be combined with online and offline in the future. Usually offline class for interaction with other students and other project-based learning. Mainly lectures should be held online, I think it is better for efficiency and time than traditional lectures. 

Amane: I agree with Syen’s idea of online/offline combination. I also hope each class size will be smaller for the offline part. Because the important part of offline classes is close interaction, efficiency will be lower with too many students. In the future, especially for basic education, I hope children can choose the level and the range of the classes based on their curiosity and skillset which now is impossible in many countries.

Jin: I think we have to come back to the definition of education as well and how education will change in the future and what complies the education. Because for me, the attraction with other people, the emotional regulations or how do you act in front of adults and around peers. This is all social education for me which is lacking in home-based learning right now. 

Junyang: Looking back on the history of education, it seems it is always on the democratization trend. Initially, education was limited to elites, then during the 18th and 19th Century, it became liberal arts-based, which is what we call humanities today. Subsequently, they realized this is not very democratic because many people cannot have access to Latin or Greek. So, people thought about what everyone can do, and changed the meaning of education to be “more democratic”. So, subject became towards production because everyone is able to be trained to work in factories.

I think the trend will be that the term ‘education’ would mean more and more towards capitalism. I read this novel by Owen Barfield, in which he spoke about this dystopian future. He said there are “three Es” in education (Ejaculation, Defecation and Eructation) that everyone can be trained to do.

This trend is no longer a process of pushing you to do you couldn’t do but to what everyone can do, so we can make that standard for everyone to be fair and equal. So, this would be a dystopian view of education in the future that no longer educate, but has an overemphasis of fairness.

Jin: In the future, we have to reset the intention of education from what’s currently a tool to maximize the efficiency or the productivity of a society. It’s also created during the industrial revolution to prepare more workers in factories, to becoming the system that optimizes well beings of people, as well as the environment. They do not care about well beingness of students. And education could be restructured to teach people how to find their prosperous life and how to live a fulfilling good life that is in harmony with everyone around the environment. It would be ideal and a utopia for me. 

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