To close primary and secondary government schools? It seems that our society’s views have been polarised into the extremes of those for and those against. Perhaps it is time to think outside the square so that the matter is not regarded as a zero-sum game. Indeed, the third choice which I would like to propose can be applied to not only the school closure decision but other equally strategic aspects of the national pandemic plan considered from a different perspective.
How about we let parents decide whether their children would stay home to receive their education online? This will allow families facing different circumstances to make their decisions accordingly. Those students whose parents opt for education at home can then be grouped into online classes similar in class size to that of conventional classes such that some conventional classes will simply be converted into online classes to fit in with existing class schedules. I am of the view that online class management would tend be more efficient given the physical separation of the students and teachers’ ability to control students’ interactions such that the online class size can be larger without compromising the effectiveness of the education.
It is acknowledged that online classes are not perfect substitutes of conventional classes as certain subjects such as physical education would not yet be possible to be delivered online. Furthermore, there is no doubt that adult supervision may well be necessary from time to time especially at primary school level and if a lesson involves hands-on activities. Therefore, parents will need to be briefed in advance on the extent of their support as required by teachers, to make an informed decision and to commit to such for the duration concerned.
But offering parents the choice of online education for their children would not only allay their concerns, it may also facilitate the implementation of social distancing in schools as certain classrooms and teachers may be freed up so that conventional class size may be reduced with the potential bonus of enhancing the quality of education delivery. Such choice can also help to implement social distancing in public transport especially during peak hours, which can be a gaping hole in our COVID-19 defence.
Since it is acknowledged by the Government that the pandemic is unlikely to be a short-term problem, perhaps MOE can turn the challenge into an opportunity to explore and experiment a hybrid approach to education delivery. Let our teachers, especially those who are more technologically savvy, leverage on technologies in different ways to deliver their subject lessons so that best of breed practices can be developed for mass adoption after Singapore returns to normalcy.
Another consideration that would be increasingly relevant as Singapore’s community transmissions increase, is the potentially greater risk of children becoming asymptomatic carriers who then infect teachers and parents or grandparents. Such risk is in turn linked to the risk of going to schools by public transport during peak hours when social distancing measures may well be hard, if not impossible, to implement, especially if our trains and buses are already running at maximum capacity during such times. The case of PCF Sparkletots @ Fengshan provides an example of a scenario on how asymptomatic children can potentially and inadvertently become spreaders.
By starting to immediately solicit parents’ choice of online education for their children, schools can plan and execute a smoother transition to a hybrid delivery model, especially if the Government wants to avoid absolute school closure which would likely hinder the effort to keep our economy afloat sustainably in a prolonged pandemic, and cause disruption to students’ academic progression. Therefore, I urge the Government to offer parents the choice of online education for their children as a matter of urgency in parallel to the remote education trial every Wednesday, which can pave the way for full online delivery to those students who have opted for such.