Updated: Apr 6, 2020
The rapid global spread of the COVID-19 (Corona) virus has understandably given rise to concern regarding public health and the functioning of the global economy. We are already seeing its impact on business travel and international mobility, especially to and from the hardest hit areas. As international schools serve as natural platforms for the close and sustained interaction of diverse populations, they and their students are among the most directly affected by preemptive public health initiatives intended to contain the contagion. As your partners in supporting your families’ global education needs, we at Bennett International want to offer some updates and insights from a schooling perspective regarding this rapidly-evolving situation.
While the impact and reaction to the situation varies widely from place to place and even school to school, some recent developments include:
· Many international and local schools in Asia are now indefinitely closed and have been since the Chinese New Year holidays; Japan has closed all state schools through the end of March.
· Many closed schools are improvising web-based instruction, but hurdles include lack of consistent IT platforms, inadequate bandwidth, and lack of experience with online education delivery.
· The Hong Kong Education Ministry has given permission for crucial face-to-face tutorials and exams to proceed at some IB schools, but otherwise required students to stay home.
· In many major expat hubs, schools are checking student temperatures on a daily basis and severely limiting school trips, group activities, and outside visitors (including families arriving for admissions tours and interviews).
· Due to extensive student travel to affected areas during the recent holiday break, multiple state (public) schools in the UK have closed, and others are asking students who participated in ski holidays to the Italian Alps to “self-isolate” at home.
· The French and British Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong have recently warned that some international schools may not recover from the financial impact of the student exodus following on the disruptions caused by last year’s protests.
What are some of the steps that can be taken by mobility program managers to navigate this situation?
1. Closely monitor websites and communications from any schools attended by your employees’ children, as well those of the Ministries of Education in relevant host location. Proactively reach out to them for location-specific guidance and reiterate to all employees the importance of abiding by those guidelines.
2. Find out what if any additional support can be provided to expatriate families currently in “home schooling” mode because of closed schools in the host location (bandwidth/software upgrades, online subscriptions, book/DVD purchases, additional childcare, etc.).
3. As it is already late in the school year, families being evacuated/repatriated early to North America or Europe may have difficulty finding private school spaces available for the current school year. Distance learning and/or home schooling should be considered as options in these cases.
Please note -- the terms “homeschooling,” “distance learning,” and “online education” are often used interchangeably, and some jurisdictions (various countries and individual US states) have specific rules regarding what is and is not permitted in this area. To ensure compliance, it is important to clarify the details when employees’ children are learning at home instead of in a school. Generally, “on-line education” refers to the method of delivery of instruction and can range from individual courses or lectures accessed via the internet to enrollment in an online educational institution. “Homeschooling” usually refers to a commitment by a parent or guardian to oversees their child’s educational development, acting as sole or primary instructor and usually guided by one of the many curriculum options available. By contrast, “distance learning” involves the enrollment of the child in an actual accredited “virtual” school with instruction by a variety of accredited teachers, the submission assignments for evaluation, and regular assessments; virtually all of that education is experienced via the internet rather than in-person. There are now many online schools offering a diverse array of curricula and instructing in multiple languages. Should your employees decide to enroll in online coursework for an extended period of time and with the intention that it will eventually be “recognized” by another school, they should be sure to investigate the accreditation of the program they choose. Not all online learning programs are accredited.
We will reach out again in the coming weeks as the situation evolves. In the meantime, we are available to assist with any school-related issues or concerns you or your team may have.
Wishing all well,
Elizabeth Sawyer, Tim Dwyer