Technical troubles mar online learning

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Technical troubles mar online learning

Some elementary grades and remaining middle and high school students kick off their school year today through online classes, but continue to face technical difficulties with the e-learning system.

After several delays due to the coronavirus outbreak, the new school year commenced nationwide last Thursday unprecedentedly through online classes for the first batch of some 860,000 third-year middle schoolers and high school seniors.

Online learning has been a trial-and-error process with numerous technical glitches that have exacerbated worries for another 3.12 million elementary, middle and high school students who will be learning remotely from today.

Elementary students in grades four to six start their online learning today while the remaining grades will begin the semester on April 20.

Students on Tuesday had trouble logging into the Korea Educational Broadcasting System’s (EBS) online classes which have been riddled with crippling server crashes since last week.

The Ministry of Education and related agencies belatedly scrambled to expand the system to prevent such crashes.

The new school year usually kicks off at the beginning of March, but the Education Ministry first decided to delay the semester at the end of February amid spiking coronavirus cases. The ministry decided on March 31 to start the new semester through online classes for the first time ever as Korea continues its social distancing campaign.

There are generally three categories of remote learning: interactive classes through video conference between the teacher and students; prerecorded online lectures; and assignments for students to complete.

The key platforms for online lessons are the EBS online classes run by the public education broadcaster and an e-learning website run by Korea Education and Research Information Service (Keris).

The EBS online learning website server crashed last Thursday on the first day of the new school year for the higher middle and high school grades.

Despite EBS having fixed its log-in system, students again faced difficulties accessing the site Monday and Tuesday.

Likewise, because of the high number of people trying to access the Keris site, students weren’t able to log in at all on Tuesday morning.

This comes even after EBS and Keris spent the weekend checking their systems.

The EBS website again underwent checks overnight after the log-in troubles Tuesday.

Kim Kwang-bum, a school education director at EBS, said, “We expect there won’t be any problems having 3 million students logging in as we have 100 servers with the capacity to have 30,000 users.”

He added that EBS plans on running further server load tests again Wednesday night.

But education critics have pointed out that the government had a month to prepare and knew what to expect amid the delays of the school year.

Cho Sung-chul, a spokesman of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, said, “If the communication infrastructure is not stabilized, any discussion about online learning is useless. The government should have prepared for the possibility of online learning since March but missed the chance.”

Parents with children in elementary school have been venting worries about what awaits Thursday when a total of some 4 million students nationwide will be trying to log into online classes.

Mrs. Lee, who has children starting third grade and fifth grade, struggled with logging in after her kids’ elementary school ran a trial run for parents and students on Tuesday to familiarize themselves with e-learning.

“Because we couldn’t log in, the kids were playing, and I was just pressing the refresh button again and again,” she said. She added that on a forum for mothers, there is talk of having to go to an internet cafe where internet speeds are quicker.

Yoo Byung-min, a professor of educational technology at Konkuk University, said, “There is a limit to the network, so even if physical hardware is expanded, the results can vary. It will be difficult to get students together and operate classes like before in a short period of time.”

BY SARAH KIM, NAM YOON-SEO AND NAMGUNG MIN [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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