SINGAPORE — From April, all primary schools, secondary schools, junior colleges and centralised institutes will conduct one day of home-based learning (HBL) per week, as part of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
This measure was announced by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (27 March), with the recent spike in imported COVID-19 cases signalling a new phase in the schools’ fight against the coronavirus.
Under this new scheme, primary school students will have HBL days on Wednesdays, secondary school students on Thursdays, while junior colleges and centralised institutes will be on Fridays. Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens will operate as normal.
On days when students are not on HBL, schools will also stagger dismissal times to reduce transient student congestion.
Ong said that his ministry decided on this formula for implementing the HBL because it is simple and scalable.
“The great benefit of that is that it gives us a fairly safe base to start trying this out. I do expect teething issues, especially at homes. I really seek the understanding of parents that we have to do this,” said Ong.
He added that he hoped employers would also support parents who may have to adjust their work schedules to accommodate the HBL days.
“Even when COVID-19 is all over, this may well be something useful to have as a feature of our (education) system,” said Ong, referring to the HBL scheme.
He also paid tribute to teachers for their effort in giving parents the confidence in sending their children to school. “If they don’t send their children to school, parents cannot work. Healthcare workers cannot work (and) the healthcare system cannot function the way it is,” said Ong.
Asked why the MOE was implementing one-day-a-week HBL now, Ong said schools had already been holding HBL days once a term.
“To be honest, I don’t think we would have done it once a week if it was peacetime. Now we do it once a week, it’s a bit of a contingency plan,” he said, noting that the MOE was looking to not panic the public by imposing sudden and drastic changes.
On whether the MOE was anticipating a total closure of schools, Ong said, “I hope we don’t come to that but we can’t rule it out. The virus situation is changing all the time.”
He said that evidence coming out from various countries, including Singapore, appeared to show that children are less affected by COVID-19. On that note, Ong said that if the virus behaved more like influenza – which children contract more than adults – and children became vectors for transmission, schools here would have been “closed long ago”.
“But (COVID-19) behaves differently, which therefore gives us the option now to take precautions in schools, keep them safe, but yet be able to keep schools, keep work and keep the economy going,” said Ong.
Support for students and families
Schools will provide instructions to students and parents on accessing HBL materials. Should this require use of digital devices, schools will assist students who do not have access to them, with the MOE headquarters providing the schools with sufficient resources.
MOE said that students – including students and their parents in Special Education Schools – can continue to rely on teachers and other school personnel for support in HBL.
Schools will remain open for a small group of students whose parents are unable to secure alternative childcare arrangement. These parents can approach their schools for assistance, with priority given to parents working in essential services such as healthcare.
There will be a small number of teachers in the schools to supervise this group of students, as well as handle Singapore Student Learning Space- or HBL-related queries of the students at home.
MOE has already switched centre-based learning to HBL format for the first two weeks of Term Two to reduce intermingling of students from different schools. This will be continued until the end of the term.
For graduating centre-based students in Secondary 4 and 5, as well as JC2, the mode of learning can take the form of video-conferencing in their respective schools or at home, so that they need not travel to the centres.
CCAs, external activities suspended until end of Term Two
MOE said that it is introducing HBL progressively, as it is aware that such a move will have a significant impact on many parents and families, especially those without good home support. It will put in place additional measures to help students with higher needs or who require more support for HBL.
Meanwhile, co-curricular activities will remain suspended until the end of Term Two, as will external activities and those that involved mingling of students across schools (Learning Journeys, outdoor learning at the Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres, and the National School Games).
The Singapore Youth Festival arts presentation will also be cancelled.
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