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The COVID-19 pandemic will be a significant event in the education of most young people worldwide. UNESCO has stated that 90% of the world’s students have been affected by school closures. As a result, a new generation of virtual learners has emerged as educators endeavor to balance virtual learning platforms and a partial return to in-class teaching. 

To better understand the strategies that schools are implementing to ensure their students continue to benefit from a well-rounded education, we spoke to Chi-Yan Shang, a CAS IB Coordinator at the American School of Doha. He shared tips for helping students maintain motivation and facilitating engagement with global issues, in addition to providing some insight into the advantages offered by virtual learning. 

Focus on existing partnerships and initiatives

Although the American School of Doha is currently working on a 50/50 hybrid model, all other campus activity remains suspended. That means no in-person meetings or activities. Thankfully the school’s student-led Service Clubs, where students generate various CAS Experiences and Projects, have pivoted online. 

Mr. Shang emphasized that although Community-Led Service Trips were and will be a valued component of the CAS experience, his team already had a framework in place that prompted engagement beyond the actual trip. “Before the pandemic, when we travel to a destination—that is never the only link. We have always encouraged students to make connections between CAS, the subjects, the local community in the context of global concerns. Our connection to local organizations remains strong.”

Therefore, students have continued projects that existed prior to the pandemic, such as their virtual math and English classes with a Rohingya Refugee Camp in Bangladesh. As Mr. Shang explained, “the participants really enjoy the interaction. For some of them, it is their only contact with people outside of South Asia. Despite being virtual, these bonds are more valuable now than ever.”

Foster links between student clubs and activities

With all other extracurricular activities canceled, Mr. Shang noted that “there has been an increased interest in Service Clubs. It is the only activity available, and students are eager to get involved and accomplish something tangible.” 

To accommodate the new virtual structure, the Service Clubs have organized a series of shared seminars and clinics, to which they invite members of other clubs to whom the topic may appeal. 

Mr. Shang explained, “the hosting club drives the topic, but additional clubs collaborate in subsequent meetings. So the Environmental Club might ask the Education or Impact Club to join in. We have created more of a seminar or clinic environment that is discussion-based and allows the students to learn from both the speaker and one another.”

In addition, the various Service Clubs have been joining forces to create more fully-realized digital events. “So far,” Mr. Shang said, “our fundraising efforts have remained stable, and we have been able to garner support for virtual events by offering a more dynamic agenda, thanks to contributions from various clubs.”

Embrace the advantages

“Instead of flying in keynote speakers, we were able to apply the same budget to build a more extensive virtual program,” Mr. Shang explained, “We have already been able to host guests like Carl Wilkens and Jordan Hattar.” 

The flexibility of a virtual platform has also given Mr. Shang and his team a wider pool of speakers to choose from; “it has allowed us to connect with people who are not able to travel or do not feel comfortable speaking in a theatre.”

In addition to presenting a more robust calendar of speakers, Mr. Shang emphasized that the pandemic has forced students to be more organized —“technology can pull the rug right out from underneath you, and it quickly becomes obvious who isn’t prepared.” 

Get students involved and establish goals and timelines

“Our club activities were already largely student-run, which has been very helpful. The students have been able to leverage a lot of what was already in place.” He explained, “in some ways, the students at ASD are helping their teachers to adjust to online learning. For example, the Education Club created a UN SDG toolkit to help teachers find online resources and initiatives that support the goals.”

In terms of keeping morale high and allowing students to continue seeing the fruits of their labor, Mr. Shang highlighted the importance of sticking to the same frameworks and timelines that existed pre-pandemic. “We always start with a Strategic Service Planning Symposium, and this year has been no different. Led by Evan Wesley from the Thirst Project, this process helps us develop a cohesive Service Calendar and illuminates ways that various groups can collaborate.”

Indeed, it is more important than ever to give students concrete goals to work towards and engage in regular check-ins. As Mr. Shang concluded, “having a framework in place encourages all students to be actively engaged in their own learning and in reviewing their progress against targets.”