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Tuition centres prepared to move back online, ‘not surprised’ at announcement amid spike in COVID-19 cases

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SINGAPORE: The recent announcement that tuition centres and enrichment classes will have to move classes back online was not a surprise for service providers in Singapore, with many of them expecting it to happen considering the recent spike in COVID-19 community cases.

Tuition centres that CNA spoke to said that they were prepared and had contingency plans in place, having already run online classes from Phase 1 of Singapore’s reopening last year.

The announcement was “not too surprising”, given the recent COVID-19 cases among students, said Dr Gavin Ng, director of Gavin’s Tuition.

The Government’s announcement earlier on Friday to cap the size of social gatherings to two people was also an indication of the situation, said Dr Ng, prompting him to move classes for the 500 students across his four centres online from the next day.

At 9pm on Friday, just hours after the Government’s announcement, Dr Ng and his team had already dispatched delivery drivers to send online learning materials to the students’ homes.

“Actually when they said (to) reduce the number of pax from five to two on Friday, I actually expected that they will move the schools and everything to home-based learning,” said Dr Ng. 

He said that he decided to convert to 100 per cent home-based learning even though it was not yet a requirement then, as he expected community cases to increase further.

“The moment it infects one student, it will very fast spread to more and more people, so that was why I had contingency plans to prepare for such spread of community cases in educational institutions.”

COVID-19: Primary, secondary schools and JCs to move to full home-based learning from May 19

On Sunday, the Government announced that all primary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges and Millennia Institute, would shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the term on May 28.

All centre-based tuition and enrichment classes should also move activities online until the end of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), to reduce the intermingling of students from different schools, said Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing in a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Education released an advisory, saying that all in-person private tuition and enrichment – academic or non-academic – for younger students must be suspended from Wednesday.

READ: All in-person private tuition and enrichment for students aged 18 and below to be suspended: MOE

THE NEW NORM

“As expected, tuition centres need to move back to online. There is no surprise,” said Mr Raymond Loh, managing director of Raymond’s Maths & Science Studio.

“Switching between online and onsite is now the norm for all schools, tuition centres included. I believe all are prepared, be it mentally or equipment or logistics, since last year. This is nothing new,” he added.

Mr Loh said that his centre told parents and students on Friday that they would be conducting all lessons on Zoom from May 15 to Jun 13.

In fact, said EduFirst Learning Centre, the team was “initially surprised” that physical lessons were allowed to continue last week after the first few students tested positive for COVID-19. 

“We were expecting tuition centres to actually have to shift our lessons online, and we were also expecting that schools would close, given a rise in cases in children and in schools,” said Ms May Choong, manager of EduFirst Learning Centre. 

Most parents also expressed concerns about the rising community cases in the past week, asking for lessons to be suspended or moved online, she added. EduFirst Learning Centre has 13 centres islandwide catering to a few thousand students. 

Timeline: How a COVID-19 cluster emerged at Learning Point tuition centre

ONLINE PREPARATIONS

Centres CNA spoke to said they were well-prepared for the move online, as many of them had continued to offer online options after the “circuit breaker” period last year. 

“For our centre, we’ve always been running an online class as part of our schedule since Phase 1 of last year. Even while returning to onsite lessons, we’ve always had an online option,” said Ms Nicole de Silva of Mrs D’s English Enrichment. The centre has about 70 students. 

It “wasn’t too difficult” to move classes online, and hours after the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) announcement, the centre moved its in-person Friday afternoon class online, she added. 

“In terms of preparedness to take things online, on the part of our teachers, we’re completely fine, since we’ve been doing this all the while,” said Ms de Silva, noting that items such as iPads and shared online materials are helpful for students to keep up during online classes. 

“The concern was really for some of the students who had some difficulties during HBL last year. Some of the parents and some of the students who are a little more easily distracted … they will raise that they are a little worried about how their child will manage,” she added. 

READ: Children aged 12 to 15 to receive Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Singapore

At Gavin’s Tuition, the centre has seen about 60 per cent of its student base taking classes online since Phase 1 of Singapore’s reopening last year, said Dr Ng. 

“This time round, I think because of the rapport within our centre, we are very close to the parents and students. They are very cooperative. The moment we moved online, we announced to them, up to now, literally 100 per cent of our student base moved online. None of them actually feel that the online lessons are not effective,” he added. 

His team has also built a mobile application to support parents in terms of logistics and monitoring their child’s curriculum.

Through online lessons, teachers can typically only deliver audiovisual aspects of a lesson, said Dr Ng. “What the parents are concerned about is the semantic portion – whereby are they able to understand as well as if they have physical lessons.” 

The team is planning to put together home kits for their students to aid in their learning, he added. For example, Primary 4 or 5 students may receive a set of wires, switches and other materials to learn about electric circuits from home. 

gavin's tuition centre 2
Students at Gavin’s Tuition engaging in a science experiment at the centre. (Photo: Gavin’s Tuition)

As for EduFirst Learning Centre, which sees students from pre-primary to secondary school, most parents were receptive to online learning, said Ms Choong. 

“For the younger kids, parents would prefer to stop. For the older ones, so far, the take-up rate is around 70 to 80 per cent.” 

“For younger kids, their attention span is quite short. For them, the physical interaction is very important, to touch, to feel, to see,” she added. 

“There are some (children) who are quite good, they can listen to instructions, they can stay focused on the screen, But most of them, they will wander off after a while.” 

Overall, however, most parents were receptive to continuing lessons online because they are more concerned about their child’s safety, said Ms de Silva. Just one parent at her centre requested to defer lessons for the next two weeks and return in Term 3. 

“You want to keep the momentum going. If you know that your child has difficulty concentrating online, or focusing online, then it’s a matter of effort on his part or a little bit of help from the parents as well to encourage them,” she told CNA. 

Many students would have also just finished or are finishing their mid-year examinations, she added.

“The alternative is no class at all, which is not what we want to do at this stage, given that it will be essentially six weeks of no classes unless students join a holiday programme,” she added, noting that the centre has some holiday programmes designed to be held online.

At this point towards the end of the term, students are wrapping up and consolidating what they have learnt so far, said Ms de Silva. “To miss out on the last few lessons of the term, they would miss out on that consolidation.”

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