Online Learning: 5 Lessons from Singapore
Remembering the lessons from the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, Singapore was one of the first countries to become fully cognizant of the level of threat brought about by COVID-19. A few weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), academic institutions of all levels in the Lion City have already received clear guidelines on how to prevent the disease from spreading in their communities, in addition to developing practical strategies to hasten the rollout of their online learning programs. Part of the strategy to control the spread of the virus was shifting to full home-based learning (HBL), especially when a significant increase in the number of cases in the country was observed.
Singapore’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic was deemed a success by many international organizations, and there were talks of making online learning a permanent option for students even after the worst of the pandemic was over. What lessons can other countries and academic institutions pick up from Singapore schools that have successfully implemented their online learning programs? Here are some of them.
Realize the Many Applications of Online Learning
During the nascent stage of the pandemic, online learning may have started as a way for educational institutions to implement HBL, but many forward-thinking Singapore schools soon realized that potential of online learning extends beyond serving as a means to adapt traditional formal education for digital delivery. They realized that it can also be used to further enrich the students’ academic lives.
High school students who want to improve their grasp of the English language as well as their chances of succeeding in an online learning environment, for example, can join foundational academic English and e-learning preparatory courses in their free time. Stamford American International School is one such Singapore-based institution that offers these innovative online learning programs to students based overseas. Enrolling in such a program is a practical option for students who want to embark in self-guided study as well as those who are looking forward to eventually joining a high school in Singapore for international students.
Use HBL to Complement Classroom Learning
Months after the beginning of the pandemic, many academic institutions in Singapore have begun adopting blended learning (BL) curricula, which mix home-based and in-school models of instruction. Such schools offer a combination of HBL and face-to-face classes and activities to their students, and they take their classroom setup into consideration when planning their lessons and activities. Some schools focus on foundational lessons during face-to-face classes and then provide their students with a list of guided activities that they can accomplish while they’re studying from home, for example. Some schools even opted to schedule face-to-face laboratory classes with only a select number of students, allowing them to gain hands-on learning experiences without compromising their health and safety.
Communicate Effectively with Stakeholders
Effective communication between parents, students, and educators was key to ensuring that all the members of the academic community could coordinate their efforts during the pandemic. In fact, the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE), from the start, has emphasized the importance of engaging and partnering with parents, providing them with “Parent Kits” and other resources that allow them to better navigate the challenging times with their children and their children’s educators.
Teachers in Singapore have also been very proactive in terms of talking to parents about their children’s requirements, announcing HBL schedules ahead of time, and letting the students know which of their activities will count toward their grades. They also took advantage of video conferencing technologies to conduct regular check-ins with students, allowing them to maintain connection with their pupils despite not being physically present to guide the children. All of these helped entire academic communities focus on the tasks in front of them while lessening the level of anxiety they felt about the future.
Focus on the Students’ Holistic Development
It wasn’t enough for schools to provide lessons online; they also needed to make an effort to ensure that their students had all the support they needed to navigate the changing situations. Many innovative schools in Singapore, under the direction of the MOE, created programs that were designed to help their students adjust to changing daily patterns and to keep them from getting overwhelmed by academic requirements. The strategies included supporting passions that children discovered during the pandemic, (e.g. coding, baking, and various artistic pursuits), providing peer support, and providing parents with the resources they needed to encourage their children’s interests.
Empower Students to Participate in Online Classes
Rolling out HBL programs in Singapore has been made easier by the country’s robust digital infrastructure. The government also set aside funds to provide students with digital learning devices in case they didn’t have access to one. Students could easily access the internet and participate in their classes, so they only needed to worry about adjusting to the new learning environment. More than temporarily supporting schools during the pandemic, the investment that went to these programs helps ensure that the next generation of Singaporeans will have a high level of digital literacy and can confidently navigate their way around the internet.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has caught much of the world by surprise. In a span of a few weeks, many essential facilities, including schools, closed their doors to prevent the pandemic from spreading further. Instead of meeting in person, students and educators around the world began to meet in virtual spaces and continued their lessons from online classrooms.
Switching from face-to-face classes to virtual classes is a big shift not only for students, but for educators and schools as well. To ensure that everyone can move forward and continue receiving quality education in the face of the pandemic, it’s always a good idea to look at the systems and strategies that other schools are using to successfully navigate the complications brought about by the pandemic.