SINGAPORE: Home-based learning days will soon become a regular part of the school year at secondary schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute, with some levels adopting a new “blended learning” model from Term 3 next year, announced Minister for Education Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Dec 29).
The blended model is aimed at helping students develop the “mindsets and habits for self-directed learning”, said Mr Wong.
On home-based learning days, students will have time for curriculum work, as well dedicated time and space for them to pursue their own interests, said Mr Wong.
“HBL (home-based learning) days will also be less structured than a typical day in school to allow students to exercise initiative in learning. Students who require closer supervision and those who lack a home environment conducive for learning, or need access to certain school facilities may return to school on HBL,” he added.
All secondary schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute will implement blended learning at all levels by Term 4 of 2022, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a separate press release.
READ: Home-based learning should be 'a regular part of school life’, possibly once a fortnight: Ong Ye Kung
ONCE A FORTNIGHT
There have been calls for home-based learning to be made a regular part of school life to complement classroom teaching, after educators noticed the benefits to students during full home-based learning over the COVID-19 “circuit breaker” period earlier this year.
"The question now is how we can lock in these gains, mainstream the new practices, and build on the progress made by our teachers and students during home-based learning,” said Mr Wong in a speech at the appointment and appreciation ceremony for principals at MOE.
Blended learning, he said, combines independent learning and exploration with the in-school experience, helping students develop their ability to be “self-directed, passionate and lifelong learners”.
Under the new model, home-based learning will account for about 10 per cent of curriculum time at secondary schools and up to 20 per cent at junior colleges and Millennia Institute, according to the press release by MOE.
This translates to around once a fortnight across terms, excluding examination periods. Junior colleges and Millennia Institute will also have the option to add some shorter home-based learning days or another full-day home-based learning day per fortnight.
Teachers have asked for more support with training and resources, Mr Wong said. The Education Ministry has implemented a professional development programme to help teachers design effective blended learning experiences for students, he added.
PERSONAL LEARNING DEVICES
To facilitate blended learning, MOE will ensure that every student is “well equipped” with a personal learning device and Internet connectivity, said Mr Wong.
All secondary school students will own a personal learning device by the end of 2021, under the National Digital Literacy Programme, said Mr Wong, reiterating Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s announcement in June.
This will be rolled out in two phases, with 86 schools receiving the devices by Term 2 of 2021 in the first phase, and 66 schools receiving the devices by Term 3 in the second phase, said MOE in the press release.
The rollout comes seven years ahead of the original target announced by former Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in March.
A small-scale pilot with personal laptops and tablets will also be conducted with upper primary students at five schools next year, said Mr Wong.
MOE is taking a “calibrated approach” for primary school students because they are younger, he added. “And through this pilot we hope to better understand how the use of such devices might impact younger students and improve their learning outcomes, before deciding on next steps.”
The five schools are Chua Chu Kang Primary, Frontier Primary, Junyuan Primary, River Valley Primary and Yio Chu Kang Primary.
While teachers and parents welcome these initiatives, they also have several concerns, including how to make the devices and Internet connectivity affordable for all students, and ensuring that it is used appropriately for education, Mr Wong said.
MOE’s bulk tender will also lower the cost of the personal learning devices for students, said the ministry in the press release.
Noting that MOE has provided a one-time S$200 Edusave top-up for all eligible Singaporean citizen students, Mr Wong said this would ensure most students have enough in their Edusave accounts to pay for the device.
There may also be students from lower-income households who may still need assistance, said Mr Wong.
“The schools can help them by further subsidising the cost of the PLD, and if their accounts are insufficient, then they will be provided with additional financial support so that no out-of-pocket payment will be required for the PLD,” he said.
The ministry is also working with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to provide subsidised broadband access for students from lower-income households, he added.
To ensure that the devices are an “enabler for learning” rather than a distraction, device management applications will be installed in each device to “provide a safe and more regulated digital environment”, said Mr Wong.
Students will also learn to keep safe, and be respectful and responsible users in the digital landscape during cyber wellness education in character and citizenship education lessons, he added.
“Our curriculum in schools will continue to provide a wide range of learning experiences, including a balanced proportion of technology-enhanced learning activities. The amount of time that students spend on their devices will be managed. This will be further supported by classroom rules and routines,” said Mr Wong, adding that MOE will also work with parents to help their children use the devices meaningfully.
Students who are graduating in 2021 will not be included in the rollout of the personal learning devices because they have less than one year left in the school, said the Education Ministry in the press release.
“Nevertheless, schools will be given flexibility to decide if they wish to facilitate the purchase of PLDs for their graduating students,” it added.
The Education Ministry is also working with special education schools to develop and implement plans to strengthen students’ digital literacy using personal learning devices, it said in the press release.
“These schools will customise their plans to cater to the special educational needs of their students, and likewise, arrangements will be made for those who are on financial assistance to be given additional support for a school-prescribed PLD,” the press release read.
“As we embrace a future of learning with more possibilities, we will support students who might come from homes with less support or who struggle to progress through school,” said Mr Wong.
“Over the years we’ve rolled out many programmes for such students ... We will continue to do more in the coming years.”