After SARs (2003) and H1N1 (2009), few would have thought of another health crisis striking Singapore, let alone to the whole world, and causing an imminent recession, or worse, a depression. It distresses businesses and the lives of people. A minority would have profited from the spike in demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); the majority suffers a significant drop in business or have to close down. A dearth of the population lost their jobs; new graduates see fewer openings in the job market. The only silver lining is a vaccine. It may take months to develop, plus the time to be tested, and even more, time to disseminate the vaccine to the people. The end is still not in sight as countries inch into the ranks of high infection cases and mortality rates.
Neither is the education spared. Schools are closed in many countries, and some started even in early March 2020. The foresight of the Ministry of Education, taking on the lessons from SARs and H1N1, has put contingencies in place that prove effective during this COVID-19 pandemic. Although there is an avalanche of criticism towards Home-Based Learning (HBL) on social media, there are still many who rallies behind these silent heroes from the Ministry. It is easy to rescind the effort to enable HBL, but it is equally vital to understand the perils, if not for HBL.
The Ministry keeps the education supply chain flowing
Education is about learning. In learning, there must be content. There is a generous offering of content on the Internet. Still, it takes great effort to curate suitable ones, create new ones, couple them with the correct pedagogical approaches, and deliver them through an integrated system. I am talking about the Student Learning System (SLS). The Ministry has spent considerable effort to determine what are the requirements of this content holding system from various stakeholders. They also incorporate many learning approaches to be enabled through the system and allow multiple media formats to deploy on different computing devices.
Students can log in with individual accounts to access the content, perform the activities such as voice recording to provide answers to questions, painting a digital drawing, uploading a photo of the homework, and learning from custom-made videos for online lessons. The Ministry also complements the use of Web Conferencing tools, such as Zoom, for real-time interactive lessons. Teachers can adapt quickly to these tools, overcoming any of the technical difficulties and render education services despite the closure of schools.
A primary one teacher of a local school in the East revealed the madness that she and her colleagues had gone through when school reopens after the one-week holiday break (16-22 March 2020). Some students and staff were issued the Quarantine Order (QO) or Stay-Home Notice (SHN), especially those returning from countries with high infections and mortality rates. There was an urgency to provide those at home with regular learning activities while still having to teach and manage the students at school.
However, adequately trained teachers showed resilience and tenacities to shoulder the loads. They emerged triumphant, balancing the attention to students’ needs in both domains, and is a testimony to the right training to the teachers. The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge for 21st Century Learning (TPACK-21CL) provides the foundation for teachers to engender pedagogical changes and enhance their confidence to design ICT lessons for 21st-century learning. This is put to good use at times like now.
Parents who have schooling children deserve a pat on their backs. Apart from their role as parents, they are juggling as Work-from-Home (WFH) employees or home-makers, cleaners, chef-of-household, and now, assuming the roles of tutors and technical support officers. When the SLS could not capture the voice of students’ responses, parents came to the rescue to install additional apps or use current apps to do the recording and upload them through SLS. They also share their tricks online. The younger ones who are still new to HBL, such as spellings of sentences and even reading of the instructions, received support from the multiple-roled parents too. Children, please give your daddy and mummy (or whoever is helping you) a big big hug.
If SLS were not there; if the teachers were not able to adapt to using technology for teaching, and parents who took on the roles of tutors, our schooling children would not be having the quality of education in such difficult times. We must also not forget the developers and providers of infrastructures and utilities that support learning from home, such as the air-conditioning and connection to the Internet. Otherwise, the Ministry will probably have to declare an early and extended “June” holiday. So the next time the thought of complaining germinates, squash it because we are making the best of the situation, already.
“Lessons from HBL, Prepare for the next pandemic” is a multi-part series of writings to expound the impact of COVID-19 on the education system in Singapore, as well as in other countries. It will discuss what went right and what could have done better, pedagogically, and technologically. The series will end with the lessons learned so that we will not succumb to the same disorders faced in this health crisis.
Dr. Mak Wai Keong