PARIS (Reuters) - English teacher Carole Detemple had three days to tear up the teaching playbook as she knew it and create a virtual classroom in which to educate pupils confined to their Paris apartments by the coronavirus.
As she swaps the whiteboard for a webcam, the pandemic sweeping Europe is forcing Detemple, who teaches at the International Bilingual School (EIB), to rethink how she holds her classes.
“I’m someone who constantly throws out questions to my pupils. I want replies from them, but with 26 of them on a screen, raising or not a hand icon, it’s incredibly difficult. So I’m totally changing how I do things,” she said.
Detemple is not alone. Her pupils are among about 1.25 billion globally who cannot go to school as the coronavirus prompts countries to close borders, put citizens under lockdown and shut schools, factories and businesses.
The EIB is asking its teachers to conduct their classes through the video web conferencing app Zoom. Minor teething problems aside, 14-year-old pupil Candice Lescure said the transition to a virtual learning environment had been smooth
“It’s as if we’re in class,” she said, adding that the online lessons brought welcome contact with her friends.
However, it has not been all straightforward in France. Assignments are being handed out via email, government education platforms, WhatsApp and even by post.
Social media has been replete with parents pulling their hair out over dodgy internet connections, overloaded public portals, and the challenges of balancing day jobs and home-schooling.
“We’re learning to live side-by-side,” Candice’s mother Marie said wryly.
It is still not clear when schools will re-open.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said the favoured scenario was for schools to resume on May 4, after the Easter holidays, if the public health situation allowed, and that he still wanted school-leavers to sit their baccalaureate exams.
In the meantime, Detemple said, her role was also to help parents keep their children sane during the unprecedented lockdown.
“They’re stuck at home, with their parents, unable to see their friends,” she said. “Here we can take them into another universe.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Giles Elgood