As schools reopen after four months of closure, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been careful to remind Palau that the threat of COVID has not gone away. Among the measures put into place by the Ministry to address the COVID risk are four-and-a-half-day school weeks, an early school opening on August 3, and teacher training for remote-teaching methods.

In the event of a positive COVID case, the MOE has stressed that the islands should be prepared to readopt the measures taken in March when, in the last two-and-a-half months of the school year, teachers and students were forced to change their strategies and continue having classes without classrooms.

This week, Paul Cruz, a math and robotics teacher at Mindszenty High School, spoke to Island Times about his experience using the online platform ZOOM to teach lessons during lockdown, and why it worked for him.

“My goal is to breach the gap that occurs when you teach remotely,” Cruz said. “Students need interaction to learn.”

Mr. Cruz teaches trigonometry, geometry, and robotics. He’d used the online platform before for business meetings in the Philippines, and when schools closed in March he decided to try it out in his classes. The platform allowed him to display classwork on the board, to answer questions face-to-face, and to share PowerPoints and virtual playgrounds with his students.

Among the surprising effects of using ZOOM were better grades.

“I actually found that my students were more focused while using ZOOM, and getting higher scores than they’d been throughout the rest of the year,” he said. “I think this is because the instruction is a little more personalized, and for many of them there was less distraction. I also realized that, as the weeks went by, more and more students started wearing their school uniforms when they attended the chats. I think they were missing school and the interaction.”

During this spring’s school closure, many teachers chose to instead make their classes homework-based. One of the most common objections to using online platforms for education has been that not all students have internet access, making online teaching inconsistent. Cruz, however, doesn’t think this is a problem.

“85-90% of students attended classes every day,” he said. “That’s just about as good as you get in the physical classroom. One of my students even attended class when she was in Peleliu.” He went on to describe how, in those cases when students could not attend class, the features allowed him to record his lessons which were made available to students in video format.

The 26th Annual Education Convention is set to be held on July 15 and 16 at Ngarachamayong Cultural Center and Palau High School, where Mr. Paul Cruz among others will share their remote-teaching experiences with educators from around Palau.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Cruz said. “I’m not saying that ZOOM is perfect for all classes. But what I think all teachers can take from this is that remote teaching is possible, if we are all—teachers, students, and parents– willing to look into different ways of doing things.” (By: Adam Somers)

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