SINGAPORE: Schools reopened for small groups of classes on Tuesday (May 19), with students who did so saying that they were glad to be able to receive face-to-face feedback and coaching from their teachers after almost six weeks of "circuit breaker" measures.
Farisah Sajidah, a 15-year-old student in Secondary 4 at Dunearn Secondary School, told CNA that she was keen to work on her exam coursework for Art in the presence of her teachers.
“I don’t have much paint at home, I don’t have much paper or even brushes. It’s definitely very challenging for me to work on my coursework with such limited items,” she said, adding that she much prefers the school environment where she has access to the necessary resources.
Adding that she is “especially stressed” about completing her revision and coursework amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Farisah said she had told her teachers multiple times that wanted to go back to school.
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“HBL (home-based learning) was very hard and challenging for me and I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she said, adding that she faced challenges across all her subjects, but felt the most stressed about Art and Elementary Math.
“I didn’t understand a lot in math (classes), so it was definitely harder for me to just do HBL work online. It was definitely challenging.”
As part of the gradual easing of "circuit breaker" measures, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced on May 2 that schools would be allowed to reopen for students in small groups for face-to-face lessons from May 19.
Priority would be given to graduating cohorts and those who needed additional support or school facilities for coursework and practical sessions during the school holidays, which was brought forward this year to May instead of June.
COURSEWORK AND ADDITIONAL SUPPORT
About 70 graduating N-Level and O-Level students returned to Dunearn Secondary school on Tuesday for Design and Technology, Home Economics and Art classes.
Eight teachers and several other technical staff were in school to guide them.
“Our priority is for the Secondary 4 and 5 (students), particularly for the coursework. Because during home-based learning there is really this element that cannot be done at home. It has to be conducted under the guidance of the teacher and of course the facility and the equipment is necessary for the students,” said Dunearn Secondary principal Tan Miao Ling.
Noting that the Mother Tongue departments are also looking into allowing students to come back to practise for the approaching oral examinations, she added: “Certainly there will be many more subjects as well. We will also have plans in Term 3 in our timetable to support our students further.”
At CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace, teachers identified students that needed more support during home-based learning and invited them back for classes during the holidays.
About 16 students, all from one Primary 6 class, returned to school on Tuesday for English, Mathematics, Science and Mother Tongue lessons, said principal Karen Tan.
“During the HBL, when they submitted their work and teachers were looking through the work, students who had doubts and needed more clarifications or one-to-one time with the teachers, we actually got these children back today,” she added.
ADDITIONAL SAFE DISTANCING MEASURES IN PLACE
Students who came to school on Tuesday were “very cooperative” and all arrived wearing their masks, said Mrs Tan.
“One of the things we did have concerns about is whether teachers would be teaching too long, because the girls are in school from 8am to about 1.30pm,” she added.
The school has arranged for other teachers to take over some classes to ensure that teachers also get breaks.
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At both Dunearn Secondary and CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace, students were instructed to check in and check out when they entered and left school at staggered timings.
They also had their temperature taken, and sat apart from each other in class and during recess.
In response to questions about whether teachers and students will be swabbed before school reopens officially, a Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesperson said that “there is no need to test everyone who has to leave their home, including students and teachers”, because the risk of transmission is significantly lower now, as compared to before the circuit breaker period.
“Testing is a limited resource and should be prioritised for individuals deemed to be of higher risk or who have close and constant contact with more vulnerable populations such as the elderly and young children,” said the spokesperson.
“As for schools, we may do selective testing taking a risk-based approach, for individuals who may have a higher risk of infection, as part of our overall strategy to keep schools safe.”
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) had said on May 14 that all teaching and non-teaching staff at pre-schools will be tested by May 26, to reduce the risk of transmission when centres resume full services.
About 30,000 pre-school and early intervention staff, including teachers, principals, programme staff, administrative staff, cooks and cleaners, are scheduled to take the one-time swab tests.
Both principals told CNA that some parents have chosen not to have their children return to school for the small group lessons.
At CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace, about one-third of the Primary 6 cohort, or 50 students, will not be returning to school either because their parents have opted out or they do not need to come back for academic reasons.
“Some of them would be being cautious and not wanting their children to come back, that would be the main reason we see. Because if we talk about the situation before home-based learning and before the holidays, we already had parents who did not want to send their children to school because they wanted to protect their kids and keep them at home,” said Mrs Tan.
Primary 6 student Erica Seah said that while her mother was not so worried about her going back to school, she reminded her to remember to wear her mask at all times and wash her hands often.
“She knew that I would want to go back as I did tell her that I was nervous about PSLE (primary school leaving examination) and studying for it on my own for the past month,” said the 12-year-old.
“I was extremely excited to come back to school as I could not wait to see my friends and talk to them face-to-face. Over the past month of talking to my friends through social media, texting and video calls, I felt that talking face-to-face was better,
“Also it felt really good to be back in school as I was reminded of how much school meant to me and how much I love going to school to see my teachers and friends and catch up on work and revision.”