Failing grades

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Failing grades

It was hard not to see this coming. On Thursday — the first day of online schooling for some middle and high school students after the coronavirus outbreak — complaints erupted over the quality of the online lessons. Some classes consisted of the showing of a 5-minute video — for a 45-minute class — while other students had to be satisfied with online textbooks and PowerPoint presentations. Some students even followed their classes on their smartphones from the street. Is that playing hookey?

A bigger problem is the malfunctioning of the Education Broadcasting System (EBS) Online Class, which is used by most schools in Korea. Due to frequent disconnections in the morning, teachers had trouble instructing their students. Unconfirmed information on the need for PCs or a particular browser for connections with the server only fueled confusion.

Earlier, the Ministry of Education said there would be no connection problems because the EBS, a government-run education channel, reinforced its server capacities, which were supposed to be able to handle 3 million simultaneous connections. But that wasn’t true. In some cases, educational materials posted by teachers on a remote-learning platform were deleted inadvertently when the server capacity was being augmented. Teachers can waste time checking their students’ attendance in the new experiment. However, poor education materials and unstable servers could be a disaster that was waiting to happen from the start. Why did the ministry brag about the capacity of the servers?

Online classes started with ninth and twelfth graders. Other grades will follow. But what will happen if all students access the same servers?

The novel experiment will widen gaps in our education system. An autonomous high school prepared a system that allows teachers to conduct video conferencing based on their writings on a blackboard, while other general schools only posted a video clip from EBS or introduced a link to a YouTube channel. In the meantime, many cram schools are prospering after having thoroughly prepared for such technical problems.

Under such circumstances, security concerns over Zoom, a video conference program recommended by the Education Ministry, grow. NASA and Tesla banned their employees from using Zoom after personal information of users was shared on Facebook. As our schools use Zoom, the ministry must find effective ways to avoid glitches.

Online public education clearly poses challenges. We urge the education authorities to double-check any possible problems and solve them with the help from experts as soon as possible.

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