British Columbia

B.C. woman teaches students remotely while schools in China remain closed

Ashleigh Wells teaches English part-time with VIPKid, an online education company based in China. She has about 40 students across China, one of whom lives in Hubei province, ground zero for the country's COVID-19 outbreak. 

Ashleigh Wells says her students and their parents are remaining positive despite coronavirus concerns

Schools in China are closed indefinitely during the coronavirus outbreak. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

Thousands of students in China are taking live-streamed English lessons with Canadian teachers while their schools are closed and they are stuck at home due to coronavirus concerns.

Ashleigh Wells, a full-time photographer from Port Moody, B.C., has been a part-time English instructor for two years with VIPKid, an online education company based in Beijing.

Wells has about 40 students across China who are in grade school or high school, and a new student among them lives in Hubei province, ground zero for the country's COVID-19 outbreak. 

COVID-19 impacts students' life

The student wanted to celebrate her 13th birthday, but was trapped at home due to the lockdown. 

"She said she was feeling sad that day because she couldn't have a party and her parents weren't able to get her a gift," Wells told Michelle Eliot on CBC's The Early Edition.

In an effort to cheer her up, the 36-year-old teacher brought out a cupcake and blew out the candles while the student watched on her computer screen. 

Wells has a 14-year-old student from Ningbo, a city in eastern China, who was planning to travel to Vancouver this summer to meet up with her, but had to postpone the trip due to coronavirus concerns.

English teacher Ashleigh Wells celebrated the birthday of a student over a virtual learning platform when the student couldn't have a party or receive any gifts amid COVID-19 concerns in China. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Chinese authorities have embarked on a massive lockdown, closing schools and some businesses since the Lunar New Year holiday in order to contain the spread of the illness. It is still unknown when schools will re-open. 

Wells is on a WeChat instant messaging group with her students and their parents. She said from what she's observed, most of them have a positive outlook.

Positive outlook

"Some of the parents ... are finding ways to engage their kids. They're having ring tosses where the loser has to do extra push-ups or squats," she said. 

During a recent lesson, a student in Shandong province of northeastern China showed Wells a hand-drawn picture with Chinese phrases that read "I love China," "way to go Wuhan," and "salute."

Wells' student in Shandong province drew a picture to show support for residents in Wuhan. (Ashleigh Wells)

Chinese schools and universities have been putting courses online during the indefinite closure.

Wells said online interactions are an excellent way to educate students.

"Some of my students have gone from absolutely zero English to being fluent in conversational English," she said. 

According to VIPKid, the online education startup was founded in 2013 and connects 700,000 students mostly in China to 100,000 teachers in Canada and the United States.

To hear the interview with Ashleigh Wells on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

Ashleigh Wells speaks with Michelle Elliot about what it's like to still teach English to her Chinese students are they deal with the coronavirus. 4:44

With files from Saša Petricic, Colin Butler and Associated Press

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