SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Education (MOE) will review how to “blend” classroom learning and digital online learning to “harness the best of both worlds”, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (Jun 2).
With schools reopening on Tuesday after the end of Singapore's "circuit breaker" on Monday, Mr Ong noted that a month of full home-based learning has "taught us a lot".
“We totally understand home-based learning and digital online learning cannot substitute classroom learning. But having forced ourselves to do this for a whole month, we also learned how to do it better, and that there are certain strengths in online learning that actually, classroom learning does not have,” he told reporters during a visit to Xingnan Primary School.
Students can engage in self-directed learning outside the classroom, said Mr Ong, describing this as a "strength of digital learning”.
“Moving forward, there is a big review happening in MOE to see how we can better plan to blend the two. Not too far into the future, I think we want to do this quite soon, (we want to) blend the two so that we can harness the best of both worlds in a modern education system," the minister said.
Because schools entered full home-based learning "at such a short notice", there are still "many areas for improvement", Mr Ong added.
The resilient response from teachers, parents and students was "extremely encouraging", he said.
LEARNING FROM SOUTH KOREA
Responding to questions about South Korea imposing limits on school attendance due to a spike in COVID-19 cases after schools there reopened on May 20, Mr Ong said that this was “unfortunate”.
“We have been monitoring what other countries do. In the case of South Korea, unfortunately, when they opened, they extended to bars and clubs and many of the entertainment outlets and this resulted in certain big clusters being triggered off,” he said.
Singapore is reopening in three phases after exiting the circuit breaker on Monday.
Adding that the clusters in South Korea were “a good reminder” to open up “step by step”, Mr Ong noted that many Singaporeans think Phase 1 of the reopening is “a bit tight”.
“We are erring on the side of being more careful, learning from South Korea," the minister said.
Schools and "most other places" in Singapore are “big enough” to accommodate safe distancing measures, he added.
“Safe distancing is only breached only when people congregate during certain places at a certain time ... so it's a lot about the processes about this that we will slowly, in the next few weeks, inculcate in the students," Mr Ong said.
'PALPABLE SENSE OF ENTHUSIASM' IN STUDENTS RETURNING
With students in Primary 4 to 6 and Secondary 1, 2, 4 and 5 returning to school on Tuesday, Mr Ong said the return has been “orderly” and “very calm”, and that there was “a palpable sense of enthusiasm” among teachers and students who came back to schools.
READ: COVID-19: Graduating primary, secondary students to attend school on weekdays after circuit breaker ends; others to rotate weekly
“There are bound to be many teething problems," Mr Ong said, adding that students are getting used to the safe distancing measures.
Some parents remain apprehensive about schools reopening, said Mr Ong, adding that he has received requests from parents to open schools only a month or two later.
"Very practical considerations" were taken on board before the decision was made for schools to reopen, he said.
“Many parents are going back to work, and schools and work come hand in hand. You have to provide a safe environment in school so that parents can go to work with a peace of mind, leave their kids here to study," the minister said.
With the end of the circuit breaker, more people will want to go out, and it is better for students to go to school to study in a safe environment instead of letting them go out into the community, he added.
Noting that Singapore saw no new community cases on Monday, Mr Ong stressed that the number of COVID-19 infections is likely to rise in Phase 1.
“So if we are not comfortable opening up now when we have zero, very low daily infections, what more later? You will end up having the possibility of very prolonged school closure and that impact will be quite significant," he said.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said students and teachers returned to a "different environment" than when they were last in school.
"Parents will understandably be anxious for their children. Rest assured that the Ministry of Education has taken comprehensive measures to keep students, teachers, and staff safe," Mr Lee wrote.
"We will take time to get used to the precautions, but they are necessary to protect everyone.
"Meanwhile, we are watching the situation closely, and will do everything necessary to gradually resume our normal activities while keeping teachers and students safe."
PSLE AND NATIONAL EXAMS
As for concerns from parents about the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and other national examinations that graduating cohorts will take, Mr Ong noted that some topics have been removed from this year's exams.
As part of the gradual easing of circuit breaker measures, schools were allowed to reopen for students in small groups for face-to-face lessons from May 19.
Priority was given to graduating cohorts and those who needed additional support or school facilities for coursework and practical sessions during the May school holidays.
“I think the load and the pressure on children, students will be less this year. And then as to whether you find the paper is going to be harder this year or harder next year, people always speculate," he said.
“Just try your best. And ultimately, PSLE is still just the first gateway of a very long learning and education journey.”
Urging students not to be "too hard" on themselves, he added: “You still have a long journey ahead of you and discover your passion, to learn to grow and to be a better person. Don’t let one exam in an exceptional time think that it will determine your future.”