SINGAPORE: Armed with a large iPad, a laptop and a large monitor screen, over 40 tuition teachers with Raymond’s Maths & Science Studio press on with their regular lessons amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Although the lessons are held at the same time on the same day as before, all of the teachers now tutor remotely from their homes over video conferencing application Zoom.
Managing director Raymond Loh told CNA that training teachers to use Zoom and trying to bring the classroom onto a digital platform is “not an easy task”.
“Honestly, training for my staff is just one thing. Having good class control is totally another thing,” said Mr Loh.
“And how do we make sure the classes are conducive enough? To be candid with you, we learn on the job, because we do not have any precedent.”
He added that while many of the teachers and students faced teething problems on the first day of online lessons, things quickly improved and the process is smooth now.
As Singaporeans stay at home throughout the circuit breaker period, more are looking for ways to carry on with their usual activities, and many businesses and organisations are taking the opportunity to move their operations online.
The education sector was one of the first to start shifting operations online, after it was announced on Mar 24 that centre-based classes would be suspended, aiming to reduce the mixing of students from different schools.
Mr Loh said his team started preparing for the possible closure of tuition centres when Singapore moved to DORSCON Orange. They moved classes online a few days after the Mar 24 announcement.
Predicting that tuition centres would soon be asked to close, the team bought about 40 iPads, one for each of the teachers, and started printing booklets for the thousands of students studying with them.
“Getting all my teachers to be aware and know how to use the software, and trying to bring the classroom into a digital classroom is not an easy task,” said Mr Loh.
“Most of our customers are very, very happy and very appreciative that we are ready (for online lessons),” said Mr Loh.
“And we even have a small group of customers asking us to consider going online as a business. Because for older kids, they don't feel like travelling and going online seems to be a good option.”
Enrichment classes have also found ways to move online. Mr Saravanan Manorkorum and Ms Amutha Saravanan, co-founders of education company Da Vinci Group, digitalised the content under its brand KlayKit, to sell the enrichment materials directly to parents.
The team used to visit pre-schools to carry out the classes in person, but with the COVID-19 situation in Singapore, the KlayKit team conducted lessons virtually before it was announced on Apr 3 that all schools would be closed between Apr 8 and May 4, said Ms Amutha.
To target parents directly, they have started selling the lesson packages online. For example, parents can order a package of three lessons and three KlayKits to be delivered to their homes.
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“We started digitalising (the lessons) and then pairing that with the KlayKit and selling it as a package… And that had been quite a service offering that people had taken up,” said Ms Amutha, adding that pre-schools have also expressed interest in purchasing the kits for their students during this home-based learning period.
“We changed the angle to go more B2C. Since we started doing that, there have been quite a number of orders as well, still slow, but I think people are picking up and getting the idea about it.”
According to the couple, parent feedback “has been actually very great”, and they have even received orders from parents overseas.
“It's also become quite exciting because people overseas have also started buying just the content, because we realise that right now supply chains might be affected and we can't really send the KlayKit.
“So we have created just content, consumable for parents overseas to buy it at a nominal rate, and then they can just use all sorts of other mediums that they can find to actually create the craftwork.”
But moving online has not been easy for everyone. Private tutor Wendy Ng, 38, said half of her regular students have requested to stop lessons for now.
“(One of the) main difficulties is that not all parents or students are accepting of online lessons. Some have requested to stop tuition for now. Also, it has become more time consuming to conduct the lessons since there is more preparation needed before lessons,” she told CNA.
Ms Ng said she has lost about 40 per cent of her usual income from the cancellations. She uses Zoom for online tutoring with her students and charges the same amount for online lessons.
“Work is assigned to students to complete in advance. (They) send it back to me to check, and then we can go through during the online session. So there is more pre-work to be done before actual lessons,” adding that speaking to students on a video call is quite different from face-to-face.
“We tend to misunderstand each other quite a bit.”
EXERCISING FROM HOME
Other types of lessons have also shifted online to deal with the realities of the circuit breaker measures.
Water bottles, laptop bags, suitcases and chairs - these are some of the “workout gear” personal trainer Patrick Siew has got his clients to use as they exercise from home.
Mr Siew now uses video conferencing apps to remotely coach clients who sweat it out by doing kettlebell swings with a laptop bag or squats while holding heavy water bottles.
While there are many online exercise videos and apps out there, there are people who prefer to have interaction with a trainer over video, he said. The trainer can also monitor what the client is doing and correct their form. He may continue such classes in future if there is demand, he added.
“It seems to work with a lot of people who have very busy schedules and they can't get out.”
Yoga teacher War War Lwin Tun, founder of Ohmsantih Yoga is also considering extending her online offerings even after the circuit breaker period is over.
Former students of hers, such as public relations director Julie Chiang, have signed up for her new Zoom classes, which were launched on Apr 6.
Ms Chiang, a mother of three, said that she stopped attending classes because she was busy with the children and travelling to the yoga studio took up too much time.
“When she started doing (Zoom classes), I jumped at the chance to sign up,” she said.
Ms Lwin Tun has also reconnected with students who have moved overseas, from places including Mauritius, Tokyo and France.
“There are lockdowns everywhere, so they’re very happy about this - that’s something cool that’s come out of this,” she said.
Since lockdowns have begun around the world, virtual classes have erased geographical boundaries, with major gyms and fitness memberships rolling out free online classes.
ClassPass has been providing free on-demand exercise classes on its app, while subscribers can use their credits to attend livestreamed classes from studios or instructors around the world.
Users can log in live for a session from anywhere, said Mr Sam Canavan, regional director of ClassPass APAC.
“We expect Singapore to have more than 100 local partners offering livestream before the end of May,” he said.
Gym chains such as Fitness First have also been streaming classes on social media.
“The response we have received so far has been positive and we’re seeing much higher engagement on the posts,” said Mr Anil Chugani, country manager of Fitness First Singapore.
The gym has also introduced a “30-Day Challenge” on social media for people to contribute creative home workouts using ordinary household items in place of gym equipment.
The People’s Association has also decided to livestream “bite-sized classes” so that residents and senior citizens “can continue to lead an active and healthy life” from home.
The viewership of the virtual lessons is “encouraging”, said a PA spokesperson. Over the past three weeks, the viewership for the PAssion L!VE and Virtual CC classes have doubled, she added.
“PA has taken a holistic approach in curating and planning courses so that it is highly accessible for seniors and their families. There are plans for webinars, online classes to be rolled out in stages to enhance the online learning experience,” said the spokesperson.