Distance learning struggles to keep distracted students focused

"I told him he was wasting the teacher's time and thought he would stop, but he kept coming back to games because they were right in front of him."

Anais, a student at the International Bilingual School (EIB), attends her online lessons in her bedroom in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread in France, March 20, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES/FILE PHOTO)
Anais, a student at the International Bilingual School (EIB), attends her online lessons in her bedroom in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread in France, March 20, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES/FILE PHOTO)
As many students in Israel continue to learn through distance learning, parents and teachers are struggling to keep children focused outside of the traditional classroom setting.
"Several times I caught him in the middle of a class in front of an open computer, but instead of studying or listening, he put the teacher on silent and saw videos of people playing Fortnight. Other times I realized he was playing on a smartphone during class," said Maya, a mother of a sixth-grader, to Israel Hayom. "I was very angry with him once. I told him he was wasting the teacher's time and thought he would stop, but he kept coming back to games because they were right in front of him."
Students around the country and around the world are struggling to stay focused with computer games, YouTube and smartphones readily available without a teacher or school to keep them focused. Many students are even skipping class.
The Education Ministry is unsure how many students skip virtual lessons, as surveys have not been conducted among students, teachers and parents.
A survey conducted before the start of the school year found that among about 1,000 parents of children studying over Zoom, only about 22% reported that their children did not even attend one class or participated in only a small portion of the classes, according to Israel Hayom, although the survey was conducted when less classes were taking place.
A source in the education system told Israel Hayom that there are cases in which only about 50% of the students in a class are connected or are really watching the lesson.
"There is learning, but it is not effective long-term learning for all students," said Dafna, an educator and teacher at a high school in central Israel, to Israel Hayom. "It happens that I turn to a student who is connected to a lesson, ask a question and he doesn't answer. I tell the students that he probably went back to sleep, that he was present in the lesson but was not really there."
"Alternatively, I see a student who constantly moves his head in a different direction and returns it to the screen and then it is very clear that the whole lesson he's sending messages and talking on the phone - which in class he could not do," added Dafna.
The teacher has received a whole string of excuses, including a lack of internet or power outages, but some students will even admit that they didn't wake up or aren't coming to class.
Dafna added that there are students who don't feel comfortable being with an open camera for a variety of reasons, so teachers try and find a variety of ways to keep classes interesting.
The increasing trend to play hooky started becoming more popular even before the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, a survey found that half of high school students in the Jewish sector cut class for no justifiable reason, while 33% of students in the Arab sector did the same. Some 26% of middle school students and 10% of elementary students also cut class for no justifiable reason.
"We have a private group where we cover or back each other up," an 11th grade student told Israel Hayom. "If the teacher checks names, we immediately write in a group or call and tell a friend to connect. In general, there are all kinds of ditching methods: you can go to class, put yourself on 'mute', turn off the camera and go back to sleep."
"It is also possible to enter the class and after checking attendance to leave it, because no one checks names also at the end," added the student. "You can also say that there is a technical issue and there is currently no internet or electricity."
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to reconvene Sunday to continue discussions about opening more classrooms, including returning children in fifth, sixth, 11th and 12th grades to their classrooms.
The children were originally supposed to return to school on Sunday, but increasing infection pushed off any decision on the matter. The earliest they could return now is Tuesday.
Last week, the Education Ministry released its final proposal for opening schools for children through sixth grade, plus classes for students in grades 11 and 12.
The new plan would put first and second graders back into their classrooms without capsules five days per week for five hours each day. Third and fourth grades would learn without any changes, with pupils learning in set groups of up to 20 five days per week for five hours each day.
Fifth and sixth grades would learn in set groups of up to 20 students, at least three days per week for at least 14 hours each week. No transfers will be allowed between groups. Finally, 11th and 12th grades would learn in groups of up to 20, at least two days per week.

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.