Friday, October 30, 2020

Education in times of COVID-19: Distance learning, online classes and straddling time zones

What I am about to share is not unique to our household. This is a common theme in most households during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grappling with educating the kids, managing remote learning / distance learning discipline and dealing with the challenges of operating within different time zones, are just few examples of the challenges that families face during this COVID-19 pandemic.

We have 4 children, all attending schools in various forms. To fully protect or disclose their identities, I’ll call them child #1, child #2, child #3 and child #4 😊.

Child #1: She presently resides in the US (UTC-5) and pursuing her masters at university in Germany (UTC+1) – 6 hours ahead of his place of residence. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, her departure to Germany is pending. So, she starts classes at 4:00am. The university adopted a hybrid model to cater for both the in-class students and the remote students. At the beginning, it was quite tough for remote student participation. The remote students connecting online were sometimes forgotten by their in-class colleagues. However, this teething problem has been resolved as the university continues to improve the new method of instruction and engagement. Well done!

Child #2: He presently resides in the US (UTC-5) and he is in his senior year at university in the US (UTC-5)) – same time zone as his place of residence. He is fortunate to reside and study in the same time zone although most classes are online. As a senior, he was allowed to stay on campus. At least, we don't have to deal with the multiple burden of finding alternate accommodation in a remote country during a pandemic. Thanks to the university for relieving us of this stress. We are extremely grateful.

Child #3: He presently resides in Bangladesh (UTC+6) and he started as a freshman at university in US (UTC-5) – 11 hours behind his place of residence. He could not travel to the US due to COVID-19 travel restrictions for international students. Therefore, the university advised all freshmen to study remotely. So, he starts classes at 6:00pm and, due to after class activities and homework, he goes to bed at 4:00am or at 5:00am. We see him for few hours.

Child #4: She presently resides in Bangladesh (UTC+6) and attends high school in Bangladesh (UTC+6). She is fortunate to reside and study in the same time zone although classes are online. We literally live 5 minutes away from the school campus, but her bedroom has become the new classroom. At the start of the pandemic lockdown, things were tough. Some classes were at night to cater for others who had left the country and were temporarily residing in different places and in different time zones. However, the school has addressed that challenge this school year by using Bangladesh time zone for all classes. Quite some relief.

The parents: For my wife and I, aka “the parents”, we reside in Bangladesh (UTC+6) with child #3 and child #4. I work in Bangladesh (UTC+6) within the same time zone. However, with telecommuting, the lines between work hours and free time are blurred. As part of the senior management, supporting an incredible team of humanitarian workers - some working remotely (telecommuting) and some working in the frontlines, the expectation is to always be available. Therefore, one has to maintain instant availability and continuous presence.

With this configuration, managing time together gets very complicated. You lose track of when is a good time to get together as either one or the other party is in class or is sleeping. Thanks to my wife, she helps keep us all together.

I believe that our story is not unique. It is just one example of the many challenges that families face during this pandemic. Families with younger children have even greater challenges in managing work and helping the kids in remote school. We are lucky that they are old enough to manage their schedules and connect online without requiring our support. Imagine what life is like for younger kids and their parents who have to go to work. Life has to go on.

So many kitchen tables, dining tables, bedrooms, living rooms, balconies and every space that can be utilized, has been converted to make-shift classrooms and offices during this pandemic. Electricity bills are climbing, frustrations are rising, people are physically together but spend less time together.

To all families out there, you’re not alone. We’re in this together and we shall get through this. Stay calm, stay safe and make the best of the “new normal” while it lasts. When it’s all done and dusted, we shall all have interesting stories to share.


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