News Centre

21 May 2020

CUHK Study Reveals that Local Secondary School Students Face Great Challenges and Pressure in Online Learning Under the Epidemic

21 May 2020

The COVID-19 epidemic has caused schools in Hong Kong to suspend classes since the end of January. Students have switched to online learning to achieve “no suspension of classes” under the epidemic. To better grasp the learning needs and feelings and help schools improve the online teaching model and develop strategies for the resumption of classes, a team led by Professor Thomas Chiu, Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Faculty of Education, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), conducted a survey from April to May 2020. The opinions of 1,168 secondary school students were collected through the teachers. It was found that the surveyed students rated the value of online teaching, as a whole, not very high and reported they were under huge learning pressure and anxiety after switching to online learning. The survey results show that schools generally need to adjust online teaching strategies to meet the needs of students.

Participation and Views of Secondary School Students in Online Learning 

Among the respondents, 63.0% (734 persons) and 37.0% (434 persons) were junior and senior secondary school students, respectively. When asked about why they participated in online learning, nearly 80% of the respondents indicated their primary reason was to respond to requests from schools and teachers (79.8%). Keeping up with learning progress was the next most reported reason (63.7%). When asked if they agreed that online learning is valuable, the average score among the students surveyed was only 2.97, which is only moderate (rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being strongly agree).

Most of the respondents participated in real-time online lessons (99.4%) and did homework provided by teachers (75.2%). When asked what kind of online learning method they liked most, more than 70% of the respondents preferred to learn in real-time online lessons (72%), while only 20% of the respondents preferred to learn through watching pre-recorded teaching videos (20.4%). Overall, only around 20% of the respondents felt they could understand the subject content solely by watching videos (23%). 

Moreover, most of the students expected the schools to offer various forms of online learning resources to support them in finishing the homework. More than 70% of junior secondary respondents felt a greater need for individual care, such as tutorials or make-up classes (71%); while over 65% in senior secondary sought more small group learning activities 67%).

Effects of Online Learning on Students’ Mental Health Development

The survey also explored the impact of online teaching on students’ emotional and mental health condition. The respondents rated a score of 4.05 in terms of stress and 4.15 in terms of anxiety respectively (on a 5-point scale, the higher the score, the higher level of stress and anxiety). The three biggest reported worries were stress from homework (81.4%), academic underperformance (79.1%) and inability to meet / interact with classmates (60.0%). The above results highlighted the importance of mental health support for effective online learning among students, particularly when society is facing a global public health crisis. 

The survey also showed that the students who responded rated their self-monitoring learning ability at a moderate level of 3.3 (rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score), indicating that they were not well prepared for online learning. At the same time, 18.6% of the respondents had to borrow digital equipment (such as computers or internet data cards) from their schools and other organisations for online learning, reflecting the need for the education community to pay attention to the challenges faced by the disadvantaged students.

Professor Thomas Chiu said, “The survey results showed that although teachers actively provided online teaching to students during the epidemic, feedback from students showed that the overall effort did not achieve the expected results. I believe the main reason is that most of the current online teaching focuses on behavioural participation, which fails to achieve the diversity of learning. At the same time, it is difficult for students to adapt to the change of teaching mode in such a short time.”

The team made the following recommendations to all schools and educational practitioners in Hong Kong for their consideration:

Arrangement after Class Resumption

  • Arrange mental health activities to let students express their emotions, such as talking about their life during school closure, and conduct activities that allow students to contribute to the community.
  • Avoid arranging too many teaching and assessment activities to alleviate the pressure on students who are catching up on homework or curriculum as well as attending examinations and assessment.

Strategies for Continued Learning during School Closure

  • Formulate online teaching strategies or curriculum guidelines, such as establishing peer online support groups, adopting “learning more and evaluating less” assessment approaches, and providing different forms of learning resources, such as having more interdisciplinary and self-regulated learning activities for students.

Long Term Policy on Information Technology in Education

  • Support or aid students to purchase digital equipment, and strengthen students’ digital communication skills (such as emotional expression), students’ ability to use technology to monitor the progress of self-learning and online peer learning skills to narrow the digital divide among students.
  • Strengthen the professional training of teachers in teaching with technology by enhancing their digital communication skills and capacity to design and produce teaching-efficient videos, as well as by raising their awareness of online learning diversity, learning though creation, and peer learning.
  • Establish a unified pedagogical, perhaps an e-learning platform driven by artificial intelligence, that offers personalised learning. It also allows schools to share learning and teaching resources so that students and teachers can learn and teach more effectively.