By Andrés Sánchez Braun and Marc Arcas
Seoul/San Francisco, US, May 28 (efe-epa).- “Good morning, everyone. How was your weekend?”
It is 10.30am on a Monday and the professor’s words echo around an empty office as he looks straight into his laptop camera, projecting his voice so everyone can hear him.
“We’re going to do roll call,” says the academic, who teaches literature at one of South Korea’s top universities.
“Remember: turn on the microphone to say ‘here’ or just write it in the chat.
“Let’s start: Lee So-young?”
“Here,” the student exclaims from her home.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this faculty, like many others in the country, has opted for a platform created by American company Blackboard to teach classes completely online since 16 March, the start of the academic year began for South Korean university students.
The software allows users to attach all the necessary academic material, create bulletin boards, distribute homework and, above all, give lessons by connecting the teacher and students through video, audio and a chat room – all within the same program.
This university has been allowed to provide limited face-to-face classes so long as it meets several requirements: “Everyone must wear a mask, find a classroom large enough to distance ourselves and, above all, all students must unanimously want to resume classes”, says the literature professor, who preferred to remain anonymous to discuss what he describes as a “very sensitive subject, in a moment of great uncertainty”.
“It’s enough for one student to say ‘no’ for us to continue working online. In any case, in my classes I think that only 25 percent of students have said they want to return to the classroom,” he adds.
The lecturer has asked students to turn off the cameras on their computers to prevent the program from freezing, something that can happen even in South Korea, which has one of the fastest and most reliable internet networks in the world.
Technological limitations are a problem that will arise here and in the rest of the world when classes begin to be taught in this way, the teacher says, shortly before one of their 20 students suddenly leaves the virtual classroom due to what appears to be a connection problem.
The increase of online education poses risks: according to some experts and looking at the situation in South Korea, the first place where remote classes have been used across an entire country, the model can entrench existing inequalities.
Lee So-ra, 36, a resident of the Gyeonggi province, near Seoul, has two children aged five and eight. The latter started third grade in primary school on 20 April from her aunt’s home.
“My husband and I work, so every morning I have to take the children to my sister’s house,” says Lee. Her son’s school is accommodating a few children who do not have relatives or neighbors who can take care of them during school hours by putting them in classrooms – but still at a safe distance from each other – that are equipped with computers.
“I wonder if all schools in the world are going to be able to allow students to do this, and if not, many parents are going to be forced to leave their jobs so that their children can go to school,” she adds.