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A school passes Covid test, goes digital

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Westview Cambodian International School Chairman Ly Virak. Supplied

A school passes Covid test, goes digital

Covid-19 has ravaged healthcare systems around the world and upended the regional and global economies. Even the education sector – treated as a priority in the Kingdom – has been severely impacted, forcing many privately-owned institutions to temporarily shut down or go bankrupt.

What has become of those private institutions that have managed to remain afloat? And how are they surviving the health crisis?

Westview Cambodian International School has been able to subsist during the pandemic and even plans to open a new campus later this year.

The school’s chairman Ly Virak discussed the situation surrounding his school and the sector in a virtual interview with The Post’s May Kunmakara.

How does the education sector survive a year on after the onset of the health crisis?

In mid-March 2020, all public and private schools in Cambodia had to fully change their operations and started teaching online.

As a result, some private schools have been temporarily closed while others have gone bankrupt due to a lack of technology, human resources or materials to provide quality online education in accordance with tuition costs.

There is an English proverb that says: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” This means that “those who can stand on their own two feet during difficult times are really strong”.

This is especially true for Westview, one of the first schools in the country to be accredited by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport for online learning.

Later, we became one of the top 20 schools in the country that the government allowed to teach in-person in a first phase from mid-August 2020.

These achievements come from our state-of-the-art curriculum – we have purchased intellectual property from world-renowned publishers such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill, which offered hands-on in-class curricula for teacher assignments as well as doing self-study online before the outbreak of Covid-19.

We have scheduled teaching hours with Cambodian and international teachers – who meet high pedagogical standards – to inspire students to study hard via the Zoom app, which match the periods when they’d normally be in school, in a way that doesn’t reduce instruction time.

How has the pandemic affected business plans? Is the new campus still in the pipeline for this year?

Although we were able to maintain our existing students, Westview was also negatively affected by Covid-19.

Some of our key activities were suspended, such as field trips and study tours abroad, a variety of sports and an abundance of music programmes, family meetings for the annual fundraiser, and especially the warm care provided by classroom teachers and assistants to our students.

On the other hand, a large number of parents do not want to find a new school for their children during this time. These factors are causing our new-student enrolment to drop.

However, the construction of a new school building next to the current site is still proceeding as planned, which will be completed by the end of August in order to meet the requirements to be accredited as a top-ranked international education institution by two world-renowned associations.

These are the EU-based Council of International Schools (CIS) and the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC), based in the US.

What strategies has the school taken to avoid the brunt of the global economic gloom?

We are able to continue operations due to the quality we offer, combined with a main non-profit focus.

We have helped alleviate the burden of parental spending during the Covid-19 epidemic by lowering online tuition fees for 2020 and 2021 and continuing to develop a more diverse curriculum – whether online or in the physical classroom, even if the school has to take on extra costs.

At the same time, we are also coordinating with parents to pay tuition fees in instalments for those who apply.

How has Westview bridged the transition to online learning formats?

There are many different solutions to e-learning, so I wouldn’t want to compare the online learning methods of other schools, which may post pre-recorded videos online or on their mobile apps.

I would like to focus on the gap between in-person learning in the classroom and digital means, with clear professional human resources, an adequate curriculum and technology, as well as the sheer number of teaching hours in an in-classroom scenario.

Whether big or small, tackling this gap requires teachers that command attractive online teaching methods, rich supporting technology combined with the close monitoring of student achievement, and staff as well as parents to motivate and further encourage students.

Students, on the other hand, must be patient, highly responsible and able to concentrate well, and have access to a quiet learning environment. All of the qualities that students can develop will help them to be productive at the college level and future working life.

What’s the game plan if the pandemic doesn’t end soon?

Our strategy – focused on the quality of education for students and non-profit, parent-centred communication – has borne fruit and demonstrated that our students can adapt well to their studies online, and their levels of knowledge are still growing.

Guardians continue to support our operations, so even if the epidemic continues, we firmly believe that we will pass successfully.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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