SINGAPORE: Home-based learning during the “circuit breaker” period last year was a “nightmare” for Mrs Maria Ang and her family.
Her three children, now aged 12, 16 and 20 years were doing home-based learning, and both parents were working from home at the time, said Mrs Ang, an administrator.
At the time, they had just moved into a new flat and had no access to the Internet. The Wi-Fi service took time to be set up, and the family ended up buying a data card, she told CNA.
“Everybody was crammed at the dining table. My husband was having meetings, and I was there, I was irritated. He can hear me, and I can hear him, so it’s noisy,” the 46-year-old said.
However, those issues have since been ironed out, and Mrs Ang said that her family is prepared for home-based learning when it starts on Wednesday (May 19).
“We bought normal desks for each individual room, and everybody’s got their own space to do their own stuff. That’s why if there’s a second or third wave or any lockdown, we are quite prepared,” she said.
The Government announced on Sunday that all primary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges and Millennia Institute, will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the term on May 28, amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
The new rules did not come as a surprise given the “very unstable” COVID-19 situation, said Mrs Ang, adding that mentally, her family is prepared for home-based learning. Nevertheless, some challenges remain, as her 12-year-old son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is autistic.
“I think people equate working from home as being able to help with home-based learning but actually it’s a bit difficult because he will be doing his own stuff and I will be doing my stuff, and I will be having my meetings and all that, so it could be quite challenging.”
However, she is thankful that the stipulated period is only two weeks and not longer. The school term ends on May 28, before the start of the June school holidays.
Her employer is also understanding that she may not be “on the ball” in the mornings on some days during the period of home-based learning and has been supportive, she said.
READ: Home-based learning to be held regularly for secondary schools, JCs and Millennia Institute from Term 3 next year
Ms Elizabeth Soh, 33, whose daughter is in Primary 1, said she and her husband are “slightly better equipped” for home-based learning this time, after last year’s experience. Last year, her daughter used an old laptop for her lessons.
“We had all kinds of problems that we didn’t anticipate … things like connectivity in her room. We had to buy a router to extend the Wi-Fi,” she said.
This time, they will be letting her use an iPad, and she will have her own desk with good lighting.
“She’s going to be looking at the screen all day so I also ordered an anti-glare, anti-blue light screen protector for her iPad,” she said.
She added that when her daughter’s school gives more information, they will work out a timetable for her, to create a setting as similar to school as possible. This includes scheduling break times and getting her to ask for permission to go to the toilet.
“(These are) just things to make it as normal as possible, to make it feel like yes, she’s still in a classroom setting, and that it’s not an early holiday,” she said.
Her daughter’s school did a survey last week to find out more about pupils’ access to devices, she added.
“I’ll be worried that should she miss out or not catch up, she’s going to struggle later when school is back to normal. In K2, when they go back to school, the teachers will have time to dedicate to individual students to help them catch up,” she said.
Ms Soh, a business owner, will not be able to work from home, but said she will set up the device for her daughter every morning and go through the schedule with her. She will have to “keep calling and asking my helper to check up on her to make sure she (her daughter) is focusing”, she said.
She will return home daily by about 4pm, and her husband will start working from home next week, she added.
SENDING CHILDREN TO PRE-SCHOOL
Ms Soh, who also has a two-year-old son, said that she will be continuing to send him to pre-school so that those at home can work without distraction.
Pre-schools remain open, although the Government said it encourages parents to keep their children at home where possible.
“She’s lucky she has her own room and she can do home-based learning inside, but it’s still very distracting for everyone at home to have a two-year-old running around while everyone is trying to work,” she said.
Another parent who is continuing to send her two-year-old and four-year-old children to pre-school is Ms Stephanie Lim Yan. The housewife said that they attend pre-school for three hours a day.
“I find that it keeps me more sane. Three hours with them at home feels like 30 hours, especially when they fight a lot,” said the 34-year-old, adding that both her children require her attention at the same time.
She said that she feels that it is safe to send them to pre-school as the pre-school is thorough in its screening process when allowing students to enter. It also has strict safe management measures.
The parents said that there has been a drop in attendance at their children’s classes.
KEEPING CHILDREN AT HOME
Some parents, like Ms Khaliesah Mohamed Hatta, are choosing to stop sending their children to pre-school. The 33-year-old is keeping her three-year-old daughter at home until community cases dip, she said. The university programme manager and her husband are working from home.
A COVID-19 case has been detected at White Sands shopping mall in Pasir Ris, close to where they stay. With her daughter also attending a pre-school in the area and having just recovered from an illness, she wanted to “err on the side of caution”.
“The reason we send her to school at such a young age is because she gets engaged in school. Her energy is released there and she gets great socialisation, but over here at home, it’s challenging to have to juggle work and engage her at the same time,” she said.
She said that she is thankful her daughter and her eight-month-old son can keep each other entertained at times.
“I have a helper but I cannot expect her to watch them 100 per cent of the time. She has to do housework, she has to cook,” she said, adding that the three adults at home take turns to watch the children.
Ms Charmain Lee, a 34-year-old housewife also stopped sending her four-year-old daughter to pre-school.
“We are all at home, and she’s the only one out there in school. I feel that it’s not very fair to her, that she’s being exposed to all these things and all of us are safe at home,” she said.
“If everybody does their part to help out in their little way here and there … I’m just hoping we don’t go into another circuit breaker.”