Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

An Interruption to the School Year

In some years, the mid-year school holidays start a little bit early, like in the last week of May. But here we are in the first week of May, and today’s the last day of Term 2, with the mid-year school holidays starting tomorrow, thanks to COVID-19 and our Circuit Breaker measures.

Though the mid-year school holidays may be here, Circuit Breaker measures continue to apply. In fact, the present Circuit Breaker measures will end on 1st June, the same day the mid-year school holidays end. While it may be school holidays, in reality, the kids will be pretty much grounded at home.

It’ll be a holiday with no where to go. 2020 will definitely be the year the kids will all remember as missing their school holidays. That’s after one month of Home-Based Learning (HBL), and with the same Circuit Breaker measures, they’ve also been cooped up at home.

While the Ministry of Education (MOE) has good reasons for rescheduling the holidays, it seems a bit of a wasted opportunity to me that just when everyone is getting comfortable with live online lessons, we end the HBL season. All these years of one-day HBL lessons once or twice a year has shown as that the real thing is quite different. Many struggled with “Full HBL” (FHBL). It hasn’t been so bad for older kids, but it seems that for Primary level children, the first three weeks of our FHBL wasn’t spent very effectively. The “learning activities” were typically completed within two hours; it’s like regular homework (and the irony right, it is “home” work anyway). There were maybe one or two online meetings just to say “hi” to each other. Real live online lessons only properly begun in the 4th week. Then, it all ended.

After this experience, I’d expect that HBL needs to be taken far more seriously. It’s not about just about watching videos and giving out assignments, but HBL should truly incorporate live interactive learning. Singapore started embarking on e-learning after our brush with SARS. But we have not taken it far enough to truly accommodate e-learning or HBL on a prologed, extended, period.

After this crisis is over, we are going to have to rethink how education is delivered. This is probably more particularly relevant at the tertiary level, i.e. at polytechnics and universities. Having large lecture theatres crammed with students should probably go away. I’m not sure how much learning happens in these large lectures anyway. The situation at lower levels, especially the lower primary, would be different, but they will need to embrace more e-learning.

Singapore, as a country, will also have to look at helping every home, every citizen, to be digitally connected. This has to be more than just having excellent Internet access, but also to have access to affordable computers.

This Circuit Breaker has made some of us realise how ill-equipped we are. At the start, some people rushed to buy computers (or notebooks), with varying levels of success. Some others could not afford to buy them. Many families found themselves having to time-share their computers, which is quite inconvenient or sometimes impractical.

Some students found themselves being unable to fully participate in HBL in some way or other, be it due to lack of equipment or not having a conducive environment. Although others are getting the hang of HBL, it’s a good thing to take a break for now, with the intent to resume normal school-based lessons soon. We go back to the old, while we figure out how to move forward again in preparation for the future.

Hopefully, we will all emerge from this crisis better equipped to be cooped up at home for extended periods of time. Spending more time at home will likely become the new norm.

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