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Coronavirus forces more than 280 million schoolchildren to study at home online

Students of all levels of education have seen their classes suspended in China because of the epidemic, the world of Lena Wang, twelve, has been reduced to only 80 square meters, the dimensions of the apartment he shares with his parents and grandmother paternal in the east of Beijing. Since the lunar New Year holidays, three weeks ago, he has barely left his house, to accompany his mother to do a message, and always with a mask. At first, when he learned that the schools extended their holidays because of the coronavirus, he was excited. Now that little world is already upon him and he has no signs of getting bigger soon.

The Wang, like many other families in China, have had to make adjustments to their daily coexistence since extraordinary measures began across the country against the Covid-19 epidemic, the disease caused by the 2019-nCov coronavirus that has already left more than 1,500 dead and 66,000 infected throughout the country. Parents, like most office workers these days in China, work until further notice from home, an experience that, they admit, is made "strange." And Lena, accustomed to filling her extracurricular schedule with additional classes and many homework, is seen with more free time than normal, but few options to play.

To entertain, he reads the classic version of the Chinese literature Journey to the West, a popular game as a youth reading, and plays the weiqi, a strategy game, with his father, Tony Wang, a 40-year-old economist. He communicates with his school friends through WeChat, the ubiquitous messaging application equivalent to WhatsApp. "Or, if not, he despairs his grandmother by jumping around the house," says his mother, Yinxia, ​​a 38-year-old financial advisor.

Going to see museums, or participating in some cultural activity, is not an option. The places of recreation remain closed as a measure to prevent the spread of the virus. The Ministry of Education has banned extracurricular training centers from teaching any kind of classroom for the moment. Meetings of several people, including birthday parties, have also been banned until further notice. Visiting other friends is strongly discouraged; Many housing complexes do not even allow access to non-residents.

Lena is not short of things to do. Her parents, worried that she would not waste time, have enrolled her in an online course in Mathematics and another in English. Every day they take care that I practice the complicated characters of written Mandarin. And starting on Monday, the day students should have returned to the classroom, their school will begin offering the online classes planned by the Chinese Ministry of Education. "At least I don't have to get up so early," says the girl, who says she doesn't feel scared about the epidemic. "Well ... A little yes. That's why it's important to wash your hands and put on the mask when you leave," he says.

The return to physical classes for the 280 million students of all educational levels in China remains distant. Perhaps, if all goes well, sometime in March, though, given that the peak of the epidemic is yet to come, that possibility appears further and further.

Several of Lena's friends who left Beijing to spend the lunar New Year with her extended family in their ancestral places of origin have not yet been able to return, given the recommendations to avoid travel as much as possible. International schools, which have also launched some kind of distance education, do not expect to return before the end of next month. Many students from these centers have returned to their countries of origin, due to prolonged inactivity, air route suspensions and the recommendations of governments such as the British to their citizens that, who does not have important reasons to remain in China, leave the country .

In a country obsessed with education as a tool for progress and social advancement, many parents, like the Wang, have returned to classes online, which had already become very popular in years past. According to the consulting firm iReseach, this sector grew by 25.7 year-on-year in 2018, to generate 35.9 billion dollars.

More than eighty companies offer online classes since the start of the quarantine break three weeks ago, according to the China Daily. One of the most implemented, Zuoyebang, offers free classes of the main academic subjects from eight in the morning to 17.40. Youdao, a subsidiary of NetEase inc, offers live, streaming classes for 470,000 enrolled students.

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