Saturday 28 March 2020

COVID-19: Singapore schools to implement home-based learning once a week from 1 April 2020 to further support safe distancing

Move, which affects all schools, will prepare students for more days at home if needed
The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2020

Starting on April 1, all schools will conduct one day of home-based learning a week, in the light of the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in Singapore.

Primary schools will do so on Wednesdays, secondary schools on Thursdays, and junior colleges and centralised institutes on Fridays.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday that this move will better prepare parents and students for more days of home-based learning if and when it is required.

Schools will also stagger dismissal times to reduce congestion when students take public transport or school buses home.

Singapore has ramped up measures progressively over the past few weeks to curb the spread of the virus, said Mr Ong, speaking to reporters.

"So, likewise, for schools, which are a major part of people's lives, we have also been stepping up (measures)," he said.

"So, we will not want to do something dramatic, sudden, that will result in school closure."

He added: "We still have options. We are not like many countries, where they are forced into sudden school closures."

When asked how long this home-based learning arrangement will last, Mr Ong said: "It depends how long the virus lasts, and how long we feel it will be around."

Explaining the Education Ministry's thinking behind its decision, Mr Ong said: "If this virus behaves like influenza, that means children get it more than adults, and children become vectors for transmission, passing through the school from one parent to another, one family to another, I think we would have closed schools long ago.

"But this virus behaves differently, which therefore gives us the option now to take precautions in school... yet be able to keep school going, and therefore keep work (and) the economy going."

From Monday, schools will provide instructions to students and parents on how to access the home-based learning materials.

Assistance will be given to students who do not have access to digital devices when their learning requires it.

Students will have about four to five hours of learning on the day of home-based learning, out of which two hours can be used to access digital devices.

Home-based learning can come in different forms such as e-lessons or other references like worksheets and textbooks.

Teachers could also conduct lessons via "live" videos.

Schools will remain open for a small group of students whose parents are not able to make alternative childcare arrangements.

Priority will be given to parents working in essential services such as healthcare or public transport.

A small number of teachers in each school will supervise these students. Most teachers will stay at home on the day of home-based learning, while about 20 per cent of staff, including the principal, will remain in school.

Co-curricular activities will remain suspended for the rest of Term 2, and so will other activities that involve mingling of students across schools like the National School Games.

The Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation will also be cancelled.

Mr Ong acknowledged that the latest move will affect working parents, and he urged employers to "be as understanding as possible".

"I expect other teething issues - whether there are enough devices, whether there is enough bandwidth at home... whether lessons are clear," he said.

Schools already conduct home-based learning regularly, he said, and the ministry has been developing the Singapore Student Learning Space - an online learning platform - over the past two to three years.

On the role that teachers play, Mr Ong said: "Although teachers are not at the front line battling with the virus in hospitals, you are at the front line in terms of our response to the virus."

Thanking teachers, he said: "If not for your work, there will be no confidence among parents to send their children to school."

If Singapore closes schools, will exams go on?
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2020


Q What if parents do not work in essential services like the healthcare sector, but in jobs like retail, and cannot take leave on home-learning days?

A The Ministry of Education (MOE) has said that schools will remain open for a small group of students whose parents are not able to secure alternative childcare arrangements. Priority will be given to parents in essential services such as healthcare, but if you are unable to take leave on the days where your child will be doing home-learning, then approach the school for help.

All schools will have a small number of teachers in school to supervise students whose parents are not able to make alternative arrangements.

Student care centres will also be open to support these students.

Q Does home-based learning refer to e-lessons by teachers? And how many hours a day does this entail, and do students need to be supervised by their parents?

A Students can expect to have about four to five hours of learning on the day of home-based learning, of which two hours can be through the use of laptops or tablets.

So, home-based learning is not confined to e-learning or learning with computers.

Schools will plan and implement a home-based learning programme that best suits the lessons and the needs of their students.

It can come in different forms. For example, schools may ask students to undertake specific pieces of homework or reading from their textbooks. Sometimes, for subjects such as art, schools may drop off hard-copy packages at a student's home.

Schools may also ask students to go through online materials in the Singapore Student Learning Space or the Learning Management Systems. Teachers will also be able to monitor the students' learning progress through these systems.

MOE said that only young children, in lower primary, may need some supervision and help. Those in upper primary and secondary schools, and junior colleges, should be able to do home-based learning on their own.

If you have young children and are not able to take leave on the days where your child will be doing home-based learning, then approach the school for help.

Q In the event that schools have to close, will major exams, such as the Primary School Leaving Examination, the O levels and A levels still go on?

A Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday that exams such as the PSLE, O levels and A levels are major milestones, so they will continue to be held. If schools have to close for a significant period of time and curriculum time is lost, then MOE will make adjustments on the topics that are covered by the exams. He said that some topics, for example, can be dropped.

Examinations will continue, and students will be graded fairly.

Parents okay with move, but some wonder about efficacy
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent and Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2020

Having lessons at home once a week is manageable even if disruptive for some families, said parents in response to the latest social distancing measure by the Ministry of Education, which begins next week.

But some parents and students wondered if it would make a difference in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Madam Grace Chua, 39, who has a Primary 5 son and Nursery 2 daughter, said parents had expected remote learning to occur. "I'm glad it's not an entire block period of school closure, because it will catch parents off guard," she said.

The account manager, who is working from home, said: "It's a good decision to space it out, so that there are fewer people and students out in public every week."

She said her son is familiar with e-learning as his school holds it once every term. "He knows how to navigate the online platforms, and doesn't require much supervision."

But with tuition classes and swimming lessons also suspended, he misses his friends, she said. "I'd rather children be kept in schools, so that they have some interaction with friends, and things are kept as normal as possible."

Secondary 3 student Xavier Lim said: "I'm glad and relieved that the Government is trying to safeguard students and mentally preparing us if schools need to close. But I'm not sure how much this will help to reduce contact, if teachers and students' exposure to the public is minimised by only a day."

Some parents have questioned why schools have remained open during the pandemic, even as other countries have shut them.

Housewife Liew Cheng Huan, 53, who has three children in secondary school, is concerned that schools can become COVID-19 clusters, citing the outbreak at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots centre at Fengshan.

"It highlights the potential of such an outbreak happening in schools. The concept of social distancing is to minimise large gatherings which, by definition, is currently happening at schools," she said.

Mrs Sophie Lam, 41, who runs a handicraft business and has twin daughters in Primary 6, said: "This is a start, and a big step for the Government to take. But one day of home-based learning doesn't do much (in preventing the spread of the virus). I hope they can come up with a better arrangement fast."

Students said home-based learning will help them keep up with the syllabus, in the event schools close.

Catholic Junior College student Dawn Liew, 17, suggested that online attendance can be taken to ensure all students are taking part, and subject content released according to the normal school timetable, so that "students have a meaningful learning experience".

"If the necessary help were to be given to students and schools, like for example loaning laptops to lower-income students for the month, it could be just as effective as going to school, not to mention it being indubitably much safer," added the JC1 student.

Keeping schools open integral to lower-income families

Many parents who commented on Education Minister Ong Ye Kung's Facebook posts are adamant that schools should be closed. Their reasons - minimising social contact and the lack of social distancing measures on the journey to school - are understandable during this global health crisis.

However, I strongly believe that schools should not close. In this psychologically and emotionally trying period, we need a sense of normalcy, and schools function as a pillar of support, as pointed out by Mr Ong.

The main reason to keep schools open, however, is the impact it would have on many low-income groups. For workers who earn wages by the hour and who work in shift jobs, the closure of schools would have a tremendously negative impact on their families. Many would struggle to find someone to look after the children at home.

Do we expect such workers to take a day off to stay home to take care of their children when they are already struggling to feed their families? Schools are the safest places for their children to be when there is no one at home, and some even rely on schools to feed their children.

It is easy for more privileged families to demand that schools close, given their access to help and support for their children at home. With greater access to technology, e-learning is not a problem for them.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, there are children who do not have readily available Internet access, and closing schools would set back their education journey. This could perpetuate the social immobility already associated so strongly with lower-income groups, since privileged families can afford tuition and time to assist their children even if schools were to close.

I hope parents understand the rationale for keeping schools open. Even more so, I hope that they are able to see that schools are integral to many low-income families.

Kuik Tze-Yin
ST Forum, 30 Mar 2020

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