Since we can remember, education has been about schools with classrooms, a dedicated curriculum for all grades, a system to conduct exams. Additionally, there have been learning and tuition centers of different levels for children to further their education. Be it developed countries or developing ones, this has been a constant. Singapore has, for decades now, occupied the top spot concerning learning outcomes. It is the reason why Singapore ranks so high in The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global study by OECD to measure the educational systems of countries. It manifests how well the city-state adopted the classroom learning system.
In recent years, the shift in the education industry is quite evident. It is rapidly evolving and growing from physical classroom learning to an online platform.
Edtech in Singapore has evolved. In the early days, it was limited to online content access. Today, EdTech has grown to include learner data analysis, gamification, social learning, and personalized learning solutions to help students learn more efficiently.
– Shivanu Shukla, CEO, and co-founder of EdTech firm Teamie.
Globally the Edtech industry is expected to grow to US$40.3billion by 2020 as compared to US$17.9billion in 2017. Asia-pacific forms the more significant part of the pie, representing 54% of the Global Edtech market. As Singapore takes the top spot in PISA ranking after China, it has embraced the technology-enhanced learning to another level. With the advancement in technology and access to the internet, there are new ways for pupils to start learning – online. It provides a great add-on to an already existing system. Little did we know that pandemic will accelerate this process across the nation. The global crisis forced people around the world from leaving their homes, disrupting the entire education system. The schools and institutes worldwide were compelled to move to home-based learning (HBL) to maintain social distancing among the students.
The Reimagining of Education during Coronavirus
What experts are calling the “Biggest Leap Forward” in the field of teaching has, for sure, been triggered by the infectious virus. Estimates say that over 90% of students across the globe are now not able to attend physical classes in their schools, and it is evident that digitizing the process is the only way to ease the pain. It did not take much time for the stakeholders in Singapore, including teachers, students, parents, and authorities, to understand that is the Need of the Hour.
Singapore has always been at the forefront when it comes to being prepared. Since the year 1997, the ministry of education has been pushing educators to adopt Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in teaching, and this led to many schools integrating Tech in their teaching systems. But it was the suspension of center-based classes in the last week of March 2020, followed by the announcement that all schools will remain shut for around a month starting April 8 to May 4, which now has been extended till mid June for the International Schools, accelerated the pace of digitalization of learning in Singapore. Thankfully, Singapore is well-armed with all tools- smartphones, personal computers, internet access, and likes- and this eased the shift of regular lessons in classrooms to the new concept of remote teaching dubbed as Home-based Learning. The rewriting of the entire learning space involved many aspects with key focus on – live streaming, pre-recorded sessions, assessment process, feedback methodology, and reporting. It needed a whole lot of background preparations to be done from the academic management staff and making sure the existing infrastructure allowed a seamless transition.
Challenges with the Paradigm Shift
Like with anything else, change brings about its challenges. In the beginning, of course, there were some hiccups. Teachers and educators admitted that adapting to teach using video conferencing software did take some time. It required whole lot of preparation by the teaching faculty.
Every stakeholder is well aware of distractions that come with the digital environment. The issue that the learner is at the comfort of home inculcates a sense of discipline is always present. That the tutor cannot be as attentive towards every child during a video conferencing as she is in the physical classroom setup is also true. And then are the problems with connectivity, bandwidths besides the emerging issues of privacy and security in the virtual setup. But these negatives cannot come in the way of learning, and Singaporeans are taking up these challenges head-on even as the field of digital education is expanding every passing day.
When the HBL thing became a reality in the city-state, many admitted to some initial glitches. The MOE’s Student Learning Space (SLS), a digital platform that enables learning and submitting assignments, saw many users struggling with passwords to log onto the system. In contrast, many said that the system hung during the preliminary run. Things have been improving gradually with teachers helping parents overcome the bottlenecks.
Apart from these system glitches, there were other concerns related to students learning experience in the home environment, which includes dedicated space, available devices, internet access, and of course, the skill set. Most of the houses are not well equipped or suited for home-based learning.
- It is a task for parents to find enough and comfortable space for every child to study without any disturbance.
- Having multiple devices for each member of the family has been a challenge. As in many households, family members shared the devices.
- Internet usage during this pandemic period has gone up by 50%, which has led to slowing down the internet speed worldwide. Families who couldn’t afford higher-speed broadband plans and the booster router had challenging home learning experience.
- Households with more techno-savvy parents made the child home-based learning experience a breeze, whereas others struggled.
Easing the Home-Based Learning
MOE has talked at length by touching over many issues to ease the pain of stakeholders concerning the shift of education from offline to online. It is the responsibility of both teachers as well as parents to work in tandem to ease the process. Firstly the parents need to foster communication with their children to relieve the pressure and stress levels. Secondly, to learn from each other, the use of technology and platform used for learning. Parents need to be make sure the systems are secured by latest anti-virus software to keep the kids safe while online learning. Hence it is paramount importance for parents to keep the communication going, and encourage and support the children to adapt to these new ways of learning, instead of getting flustered by the situation.
On the other hand, teachers can guide the parents and students for gradual adaption to the new environment. It is equally important for teachers to balance online and offline activities. Teachers should design some offline activities for students to work independently and complete the assignments based on the timeline given. It allows the students to be self-disciplined and adhere to the school routine. However, it is advised that the parents not to assume the role of teachers when their kids are at home and instead only assist and encourage them to be a part of online learning.
Managing things is another aspect of online learning. Indeed, a virtual class cannot substitute the essence of a physical classroom, there are a few essentials that can turn online learning more productive. It includes:
- Setting up a dedicated place in the house where the kid engages in learning only.
- The study area and desk must, as far as possible, invoke the same sense of discipline as is the case with desks in schools.
- Easy access to usernames and passwords for logging onto SLS or other platforms.
- Properly allocating time for different activities of kids, including online lessons, working on assignments, and resting, recreation and exercising.
Being the Perfect Virtual Teacher
Teaching is no easy job. Modern teachers very well know that teaching is more than just giving lessons; it involves interacting with learners and triggering a response from them. And this is much more relevant when we talk about online teaching. Here, the teacher must act more as a facilitator than just an information-giver. Experts say that to draw the attention of the audience when a class gets conducted virtually, it must start with some exciting imagery or a question that is thought-provoking. The learner will have all the drive while at home to be distracted by the local environment. And in such a scene, the teacher who uses all the time only to speak and not engage the learners may be on a wrong footing. Instead, speaking for not more than 15-20 percent of the class and then allowing participants time to share thoughts is a better way.
Video conferencing tools enable teachers to share pictures and videos on the screen and engage learners in quizzes and polls. Apps also allow segregating learners in different breakout rooms where they can participate in discussions in relatively smaller groups and thus making it smarter. Whether or not are students finding online lessons exciting and productive can be identified by posing such questions and asking for ratings from students. These ratings can be quite useful in understanding whether virtual lessons are yielding results, or are there some tweaks necessary to improve their effectiveness. Even rethinking the curriculum is advisable since today’s kids, who get taught over the internet instead of live physical classrooms, must know that the forthcoming era is pretty different from the status-quo of yesterday.
The Precedence of Virtual Lessons over Physical Classes
There is little doubt that e-learning is taking precedence over physical classrooms. Even when the challenging times of COVID-19 are over, we know that social distancing is here to stay for a more extended period. All stakeholders will have to prepare for the shift. With time, we will see more tools, including safer video conferencing apps and added features taking online learning on par with learning in a physical setup. Singapore’s education sector, well-regarded globally for its focus on skills and advanced knowledge, will have a smoother transition towards virtual learning. But only time will tell what exact changes will we see and how this revolution shapes learning outcomes for kids.