Going online from the start

While preschools, kindergartens, kids and parents struggle to move their teaching and learning online, some families are starting to think about giving up on early education for their children as the pandemic makes parents more uncertain about sending their children to preschools.

Even if families can take care of children themselves, high quality online early education is not available everywhere. The same could be said of families who cannot afford nurseries near them.

As such, the pandemic has more or less changed the stakeholders of the education industry.

“The first five years of children’s lives are critical, and with the Covid-induced closures of pre-schools, an entire generation of children is losing out on a critical part of their formative years,” said Aniruddh Gupta, founder and chief executive of Kido Education.

The company, which runs Kido Pok Fu Lam Kindergarten and Kido Repulse Bay Nursery & Child Care in Hong Kong, has served more than 15,000 families in its 14 nurseries and preschools across Hong Kong, Britain, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

Unlike many schools, which are still figuring out how to better teach online, the company went a step further and launched an online international preschool in August. The company says the program is designed to address pain points.

Targeting pupils aged two to six, Kido Home, the year-round preschool program, is based on the Kido Early Years Program and has been modified by a panel of international experts for effective online delivery in line with research guidelines in the field.

Gupta’s primary concern is achieving equivalent or better teaching and learning results in the two-hour-a-day program, while pupils in Hong Kong spend three to eight hours a day in preschool.

After all, the company was founded six years ago because the founders were unhappy with the quality of early childhood education in the city.

“In a usual three-hour preschool program, only about one and a half to two hours are typically spent on core language, maths and other specific learning,” said Gupta. “The rest of the time is spent in physical development, free play and other important pursuits that require social interaction.”

He believes Kido Home will achieve equivalent or better results, as teachers lead the classes in small groups of no more than eight to give personalized attention to each child’s movements and learning progress.

Circle time, literacy and math modules are taught via interactive touchscreen technology, with a teacher present at all times. There are also weekly one-on-one sessions with the child as the focus of attention and customized to each child.

For the rest of the time, unlike other regular preschools, children attending Kido Home receive seven home activities per week covering literacy, art, STEM and physical development – along with online videos and monthly engagement kits to work on at home.

The move to online schooling might be difficult for those who are used to the old norms.

That’s why Gupta thinks the program, which has been online from the beginning, will be easier to adapt to. He described it as attending any other preschool or kindergarten for the first time.

“Children have to get used to the teacher and their classmates. Our program helps with this, since children are at home. The initial settling in is actually easier than a preschool or kindergarten because the children are in their own respective comfortable environment,” Gupta said.

Based on his observations, Gupta suggests parents help settle children in for online learning by having an elder present for the initial sessions to help them when they get distracted. A big screen also helps to keep children engaged.

Social skills, another important aspect of schooling parents care about, can be developed online with good teachers as well, Gupta said, adding that the company has seen that happen in the past two months of practice.

However, physical interaction with other children and teachers is missing.

Though that can be achieved by organizing play dates with other children during the day, it’s certainly not the right time at the moment.

“For sure, a physical classroom with the same teacher and the high quality resources that an international preschool offers will always be better,” Gupta said. “But online schools can achieve most of the same learning goals at a much lower price, provided that the online teachers are of high quality.”

Kido Home charges HK$3,200 per month, which can be paid monthly and canceled at any time – a fraction of the cost of international preschools.

(This article was published at The Standard on October 6, 2020: Education: Going online from the start )

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