SINGAPORE: During character and citizenship education class at Farrer Park Primary School on Friday (Feb 7), teachers asked students to rate how scared they felt about the novel coronavirus outbreak on a scale of one to ten. About half the class put up all 10 fingers, but a few students put up just one, two or three fingers.
When asked why they were scared of the virus, these students gave reasons including the rising numbers in Singapore, and how easily the virus seems to spread. Many students also knew the name and nature of the virus, where it originated, and the number of confirmed cases here.
Teachers took them through a situation on the spread of fake news about the coronavirus, asking them what they would do if they received a message from their friends about a confirmed case at a certain shopping mall near their home. After a short group discussion, one student piped up: “But you don’t even know whether it’s real.”
When discussing a situation about xenophobic comments towards classmates from China, students were quick to point out that they might not even have travel history to China.
“Isn’t that bullying?” another student added.
This is all part of a new coronavirus teaching package rolled out by the Ministry of Education (MOE) for all students from primary school to post-secondary levels in response to the outbreak. The lesson material across levels is similar, but teachers are given different guiding questions and teaching points depending on the students’ age.
For example, lower primary students are taught more basic things like good personal hygiene, and how to wash their hands and wear a mask properly, while upper primary students will learn about issues like fake news and xenophobia resulting from the outbreak, and the science behind the virus, said principal of Farrer Park Primary School Cheong Hwee Khim.
This comes after Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced on Tuesday (Feb 4) that schools will suspend mass assemblies, stagger recess times, as well as cancel camps and introduce visitor management to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among vulnerable groups.
Co-curricular activities and after-school programmes may continue in smaller groups, MOE said.
"The aim is to circumscribe the intermingling of students by not conducting mass level learning activities. We will be implementing them from this week beginning with immediately with no mass flag raising ceremonies," said director of schools at MOE Liew Wei Li on Tuesday.
"We will also be ring-fencing our schools to keep them safe and our students safe by instituting visitor management measures, such as by taking the visitor's temperature before they step into the school.
"And we would also check the travel history, such as if they have recent travel history to mainland China, they will not be allowed into our schools to interact with our students."
At Farrer Park Primary, students now take their temperature every day after they sing the national anthem and say the pledge in their classrooms. They are also responsible for bringing their own thermometers, washing them and writing down their daily temperature in their journals.
In line with the new measures, the school also postponed its primary five outdoor adventure camp, which was supposed to begin on Feb 10.
“We have explained to our children, they are a little disappointed, but I think we need to teach our children to manage disappointment," said Miss Cheong.
“And at the same time, we also use the opportunity to teach them or to explain to them the rationale and help them understand the need for the postponement."
Over the past two weeks, two students have even initiated their own presentations about the novel coronavirus outbreak during a pre-morning assembly activity where students can share interesting facts with the rest of the student body, she added.
Recess is now staggered into four broad sessions, with students separated by the different levels, ensuring that no more than 240 students are in the canteen at one time.
At the end of their 20 minutes of eating time, students are ushered to another area of the school for another 20 to 40 minutes of playtime. Different levels will play in different areas before heading back to class in an orderly manner.
The school has one student on compulsory leave of absence, said Miss Cheong. Teachers check in on him every day, and he has access to lessons via the online Student Learning Space.
"When he comes back, I think the teachers will have to pull him out and help him catch up on anything that he may not be very clear (on), and I think that's what the teachers would do."
“Inevitably, there will be some children who hear (about the coronavirus) from their parents and being a child, they may be afraid because their parents are afraid. I think the important message we want to impress upon our children and also ourselves is, let us not be more afraid than we should be," said Miss Cheong.
“What is important is we must be very prepared, and we have been very prepared. Our children must learn to take good care of themselves and also to take care of other people. Self-care (and) social responsibility, these are the two key messages we’ve been sharing with our students, and they are aware.”