IH in Australia returns to the classroom

As lockdown is beginning to lift across Europe and other places in the world, IH schools in Australia are already back in the face-to-face classroom. In this article, Tim Eckenfels, Executive Director at IH Sydney City, IH Bondi, IH Melbourne, IH Darwin and the ih Business College (ihBC), tells us more about their successful transition from online to face-to-face (F2F). 

When did you go back into school? Was it a gradual process?

The original plan at IH Sydney / Bondi / Darwin / Melbourne was for a slow return of students to English classes, starting one day per week and adding a second day every 2 weeks. The plan was to be back full time by 20 July.

As the Northern Territory was less impacted by COVID-19 than other states and territories, IH Darwin English classes returned to 2 days of F2F classes the week of 18 May. Sydney, Bondi and Melbourne returned for 1 day per week on the 25th of May. Due to the success and requests by students and teachers, we increased the speed of the return, adding an extra day of F2F each week. By 29 June, Sydney, Bondi and Darwin were all back to 5 days of English classes F2F. Unfortunately, due to a small surge in Victoria, all classes were moved back online the week of 29 June. We are watching the situation closely, and will return to 5 days of F2F in Melbourne once the surge is under control, hopefully in the next 1-2 weeks.

All Teacher Training classes remain online, and all are receiving enrolments from offshore and from around Australia. The programs are as successful online as they were before the crisis. IH Sydney has not set a firm date for the return of Teacher Training to F2F.

Business College at IH has been as popular online as it was F2F, with enrolments growing +/-10% term on term, throughout the crisis. The classes begin every 8 weeks, and have been fully online since the March term began. For the July term, students will be able to choose either online or F2F classes at all 4 locations.

How did it feel going back?

The first week, there was trepidation and concern among teachers and students, with about 50% of students attending F2F classes. By week 2, the percentage increased to 70-80%. By week 3, students and teachers all asked us to speed up the process, adding an additional day each week. Everyone has really enjoyed being back on the campuses.

The administrative team had a similar schedule. From 18 May, staff came back for 1 day per week, adding a day per week until everyone is back in the campuses full time beginning the week of 29 June. Some staff preferred to come back earlier, others have asked if they could work at home. To be fair to everyone, IH Sydney is not offering work from home positions to staff.

What precautions did you have to take to keep the staff and students safe?

All classrooms have been set up for social distancing. Class numbers are limited due to classroom space constraints. Everyone entering a school must have their temperature taken and recorded daily. Hand sanitizer is available throughout the campuses. Student and staff names are recorded, and students are given a number to enter class, ensuring a class does not exceed the maximum number. Social distancing is marked throughout the campuses.

Are you still offering your online lessons?

For English classes, no, classes are all now F2F. However, we are reviewing our success teaching online and making plans to implement an online component for all classes. Teacher Training and Business College at IH are offered online, but will move back to F2F later in the year.

What advice would you like to give to other IH schools who are about to or will shortly go back to teaching face-to-face?

Start slowly, and listen to staff and students. You can always increase the rate of return, based on success and demand.

What do you think is the most valuable lesson this lockdown has taught you as a school?

Be as agile as possible! Diversify everything: Locations, course offering, nationalities and markets. Always invest in and stay up to date with the latest technology.

Is there anything else you would like to tell your IH colleagues around the world?

Stay positive and listen to your employees and colleagues. The number of new and amazing suggestions, ideas and proposals during this crisis has been the reason we are coming out of this so successfully.