Covid-19 shutdown of schools, preschools and learning centres has caused the world to teach and learn differently. Home Based Learning (HBL) is being done globally on a scale that has never been seen before, from preschool to tertiary and adult learning.
I will never forget SARS. I started my e-learning venture, ASKnLearn in 2000. It was tough selling to schools then. Online learning was not a big thing for MOE at that time. They had started the School DMR learning platform on a pilot basis with 22 schools in 2000 and killed the project in 2002. Many e-learning companies started around 1999-2000 with the dotcom boom. Schools were offered free e-learning platforms by these start-ups. Many schools took up the free offers but usage was a bare minimum as there was no push to adopt. I recall some educators asking me – “I see my students every day, why would I want to see them after work?”. Soon, the majority of the e-learning start-ups had burnt through their funding and many ceased operations, leaving those schools that were attempting to use their systems frustrated.
Then SARS came in 2003 and schools were shut, fortunately for just two weeks. The world had SARS under control quite soon. But that two weeks of closure saw many schools caught unprepared. Soon after, MOE instructed all schools to adopt e-learning systems and gave them a budget annually to be able to do so. Schools began to have dedicated e-learning day or even e-learning week, where students had to learn from home. Mindsets were changed across the board; from MOE HQ to schools to parents and students. Monies were released to make implementation possible. Technology support level by MOE HQ was increased for all schools. Online learning with mainstream schools was never the same after SARS.
Technology since then have been improving by leaps and bound yearly. So, a larger and more sustained HBL could be done this time round with Covid-19 shutdown. Prepared or not, by necessity, schools, preschools, tuition centres, individual tutors, enrichment providers and trainers all switched to various forms of online learning.
I asked a number of participants of this round of HBL for their views on what their key takeaways were and how learning and attitudes may change from here onwards given the Covid-19 experience. The respondents range from educators to EdTech practitioners to tutors to parents and an economist. Here are their views:
“The pandemic has made an unprecedented number of educators and students jump into Home Based Learning. What is important is that Home Based Learning must encourage independent learning. Home Based Learning is not all about technology. It must encourage exploration by students.
Independent learning can be supported by online videos and live interactions. These must be planned and used properly by educators for learning to be effective. There are many topics that lend themselves well to independent learning. Even after the pandemic, educators should seek to find ways to plan for independent learning by students, even in regular class time. Educators can even plan for part or an entire module to be by independent study.”
- Dr Yeap Ban Har, Director of Curriculum and Teacher Development, Pathlight School & Acadenic Director, Anglo Singapore International School, Author of numerous Mathematics books. He has made a video about how educators can plan for independent learning.
“Although MOE has been talking about e-learning and schools have initiated some forms of e-learning in the past, COVID-19 has given the real push which was lacking and hence teachers have no choice but to jump into this new EdTech sea.
The pandemic has brought the issues of e-learning and HBL to the forefront. Amongst these is the preparedness of our teachers to leverage on technology for education. I understand from my teacher friends that many teachers struggled with all sorts of tech issues – setting up and figuring out the various online teaching apps, wondering the safety aspects of these apps, exploring ways to get around weak wireless access or secure networks and so on. Besides the technical aspects, there are also professional issues that teachers have to grapple with. HBL is not merely converting the current face-to-face delivery materials and make it accessible for the online content management system. Teachers need to think quite radically out of the box to engage the students. They need support and resources to develop good online lessons that do not compromise on content. They need to explore how their HBL lessons can be effectively delivered. It is therefore no surprise that teachers feel exhausted and anxious.
One good thing that comes out of this pandemic is that it has forced teachers into the area of education technology. When we come out of this crisis, perhaps we can see more teachers letting go of the traditional way of teaching and truly embracing the use of technology for effective teaching and learning.”
- Gan Chin Huat, Director and Principal of Touchstone International Institute, Founder of Olive Education Consultancy and Chairman of Academic Boards of several Private Educational Institutions
“This universal disruption called Covid-19 forced almost every teacher or tutor to operate fully online to keep at least some engagement with their students. After four or more weeks, it was clear that they would have learnt many new skills, forever changing their attitude towards technology as well as their roles as educators.
As a parent, a former principal and educational technologist, I am glad to see more ownership taken by my own children to participate in home-based learning. I believe it really made many parents and students, perhaps even educators, wonder if school and model schooling should change forever. I think so and will promote thought leadership in towards this future.”
- Dr Gary Tsu, EdTech and education leader and father of 2 school-age children
The Covid19 situation forces me to think differently. The Chinese phrase 危机 reflects that there are opportunities within every dangerous situation.
Whilst I was at first miserable at having to cut off all social connections physically, I quickly adjusted to the new routine of WFH. Preparing our students to have an adaptable and nimble mindset is most important. What is normal may not be normal anymore and a growth mindset is critical.
I have been in the eLearning space since 2000 when I was then at Nanyang Girls High. The world of education is evolving but what our current situation shows is that we are still very much tied to the old ways of didactic teaching and a top down approach. The world is getting flatter and if we want our students and ourselves to get to play in The Infinite Game of life, we need to teach and model the skills of lifelong learning. By that I mean not just within the context of doing course after course but to embrace new learning as a lifestyle choice.
I love the way we are now connected in ways never before. During Covid19 lockdown, I connected via video call with my friend in Kolkata. I was given a virtual tour of her home. I am planning for a zoom session with volunteers and a group of refugee students whom I taught Chinese painting in a refugee school in Klang, Malaysia since 2015. What Covid19 taught me is to never fear the changes but to embrace it with a growth mindset.
As the world go into online learning, the critical question we designers of eLearning courses need to ask ourselves are – are we meeting our learners need? Are we making them more self-directed or more reliant on us? Do we fly to rescue them in every situation when they encounter difficulties? For growth to occur in each learner, there needs to be time for each to learn how to solve his/her own problem and to take ownership that learning belongs to him/her. We do not know what the future holds for our learners but we do know that they need to design their own lives. Sometimes the answer lies just in a simple mindset change- “That obstacles, constraints and challenges make us better.”
- Chi Pin Lay, social artist and educator (Chi.pinlay.com)
“This circuit breaker has led both teachers and parents to embrace technology and home-based learning in a more authentic and practical way. Perspectives and mindsets are changed forever.
As an educator in art, and art being a very hands-on subject with an emphasis on creativity, I would never have thought that the subject can be taught online meaningfully in a prolonged and sustained manner. But this 1-month home-based learning has taught me that it is possible. Despite the steep learning curve, I have developed and taught whole modules on drawing, painting and sculpture, mindful to streamline teaching and learning processes by harnessing, adapting and sharpening all the strategies and pedagogy that we have been trained in and even learning new methodologies on the job. The student’s discussion, questions and end product are a reflection of their level of engagement.
As a parent, I have seen how my own children adapt, first with some teething difficulties and later more seamlessly, to this new way of learning and actually enjoying it! In fact, I find their learning objectives clearer and they are more focused than before with more time to spare to develop their personal interests, as a result of streamlined learning processes and reduced travelling time.
Though this pandemic is unfortunate, it has also been an enlightening and perspective-changing experience, giving us a glimpse of what this decade and beyond holds for us when we harness technology in our education system.”
- Esther Gan, Trained Architect and Art Educator
“Firstly, COVID19 disrupted education in the early half of this 2020 school year. In that regard, it has provided time for teachers, lecturers and faculty to make adjustments in their teaching and learning approaches to prepare for year-end exams. It is a bit trickier for IHLs, as the semester exams are in the middle of the year. Given the suddenness of Home-based Learning, it is inevitable to see knee jerk reactions to deploy teaching-learning continuity.
Traditionally, preparations for major examinations assumes a series of face-to-face (F2F) processes that prepare students in a social context (groups, classroom) to learn or be taught by a teacher. Thanks to COVID19, that assumption is now not valid; the F2F preparation pathway has been disrupted. Focus should now be on thinking of alternative assessment approaches and methods that will support and ensure student learning in this disrupted scenario.
And herein, lies the opportunity and ingredients for educational reforms and changes that will relook, and a rethink by stakeholders at all levels of educational leadership, administration, management and implementation. The advocates of traditional teacher centric proponents of instructivist approaches have now, the need to consider alternatives, and perhaps better ways of preparing our students for “outside the classroom” situations.
The immune system in academic mindsets that had previously resisted the invading agents of change, now realize that the COVID19 disruption demands a new normal.
So, what would post-COVID19 education be like? I would propose a paradigm shift.
The VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world requires new pedagogies in the light of Industry 4.0. In this post-COVID19, or for the matter, any other disruptions that have impacted education, what does the horizon betides?
A quick recap of previous disruptions to the education sector would include Gen Y students, WWW/Internet/eLearning, mobile devices and portability, accessibility of eResources, connectivity of people and content, Industry 4.0, etc. In my viewpoint, what will connect all these developments is simply, learning quality.
From the first issue discussed above, a substitution of a Zoom classroom to replace the physical classroom experience will expose the weaknesses of learning quality. The teacher will attempt to engage the students and will quickly realise inefficiencies that were there but not observed. Some might argue that students who are less engaged in the online session are just as disengaged in the physical class. It is just that the engagement is now filtered away from the noise in the classroom where every student is now sitting in the front row. In an online classroom, there are no back-rows.
How do we get students to achieve consistently and equally? My position is, together with teaching and content quality, add the third dimension of learning quality. Educators need to ask “Today, the lesson is on this subject. What can I do so that the students in my class will learn better?” Re-thinking this way will re-invent the educational process.
When done this way, we will move to learner-centricity. Students of today (Gen Z and alpha) learn best socially and collaboratively. They become content co-creators. They develop holistically – head, hands and heart. Learning is participative. At the same time, they develop social and soft skills. And the teacher shifts/extends as someone who teach to also become the mentor, coach and facilitator.
Teaching will be high-tech, and teachers will practice te@chnology.
- Dr Daniel Tan, Chief Academic Officer at INTI International University & Colleges. Dr Tan has held various senior roles in academic institutions in Singapore and Malaysia. This include being the former Director of the Centre for Excellence for Learning and Teaching at NTU.
“I would say that Covid-19 increased the speed of adoption of e-learning. it’s like the question on who successfully transformed the company to move to digitization? CFO? CIO? or Covid-19? ? Different people and situations all contributed!
I have observed that many have adapted to home-based learning. Teachers use a variety of tools beyond the SLS provided by MOE. A friend did a poll asking the parents how they feel about home-based learning. Surprisingly, many gave a positive reply. Some kids are even more discipline than before. However, a good friend who is a teacher shared that students who are unmotivated are still unmotivated.”
- Ms Lim Puay Kian, ICT executive and former COO of Ufinity which developed MOE’s Student Learning Space (SLS)
“To an extent, yes, the demand for e-learning will be growing more during and after the outbreak, though it may not be as widespread as some hope. In my view, what this pandemic has done is more like forcing people to give online learning and EdTech a try. Just like any product, some may like it, some don’t. However, I believe this “forced exposure” will help many people experience the value in education technology and accelerate the adoption of EdTech solutions in learning.
What KooBits aims to solve is how the limitations on teacher resources restrict children’s education. We’ve noticed that training a large number of teachers to reach the same quality and consistency is more challenging in countries with a bigger geographical spread. We believe that EdTech can democratize education by making top-quality education accessible regardless of geographic locale. Studying can then be done wherever the student is, whenever they want, instead of being bound to a physical classroom with a teacher. “
- Stanley Han, founder of KooBits, the number 1 portal for Singapore Math
“Online learning 并没有改变教育的过程和本质，只是多了一种授课的渠道。 而疫情加速了学生, 家长，老师对这种渠道的体验，这也解决新产品对市场最难的一关:通过更多用户的体验，了解市场的真实反馈。
疫情过后，一定是会有学生继续使用线上的平台，尤其是一些线下无法取代的好平台，比如adaptive learning, AI 系统，或者是跨地域的国际的教学内容比本地资源更优秀的平台。
Online learning does not change the fundamentals of education; it is just a new channel for learning/teaching. This pandemic accelerated the prevalence of this channel, and boosts up its market adoption.
After the COVID-19, there will definitely be students who will continue to use online platforms, especially those platforms with unique selling points, such as adaptive learning, artificial intelligence, or cross-border platforms with more abundance education resource than the local ones.
Online Merge Offline (OMO) models will be a potential trend in Singapore in the future.”
- Betty Zhou, founder of Miao Academy, an awarding winning system that uses AI for STEM learning.
“The forced school shutdown has made many schools realise the need to have good content and systems to support ongoing home-based learning. Just as SARS made many schools go into e-learning, Covid-19 now sees preschools adopting EdTech solutions in a big way. It is exciting.”
- Izzat Ismail, Managing Director of EDN Learning Learning Discoveries Pte Ltd, provider of EdTech content and systems and Smile and Learn e-learning for preschools.
“COVID-19 is a problem but also an opportunity for EdTech companies. Although it’s a horrible way for the decade to start, the flip side is that online education and educational companies are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic. This crisis has made us all believe and think about so many possibilities that we rejected or refused to accept in the past, one of which is online learning. I believe online learning is not all about using video conference tool which has become a ‘no-choice’ measure for many caught unprepared. Instead we have to think more about a long-term approach towards bridging the classroom and online learning. The best possible method is the flip classroom model, where lectures can move to online learning and classroom can be used for problem-solving, creative thinking, co activities and other project-based learning.
Hence, we worked at a simple but effective solution that can be easily adopted by kids, parents, and teachers. We used artificial intelligence tools to create an on-demand assessment system that identifies students’ weakness and strength in a particular module, This is coupled with a live learning platform. Post Covid-19, we see more people will adopt AI to make online learning more effective.”
- Ashutosh Shukla, CEO and Founder of Explico and father of 2 school-age children. Explico provide on-demand assessment of Math abilities of primary students and live lessons.
“My older children, being more independent and exposed to such teaching methods, adapted better to full HBL. They are also more resourceful in finding answers on their own, either with help from peers or from the teacher called ‘Google’! For the younger students, however, this month-long HBL experiment was probably a big learning curve for all stakeholders. I call it an experiment because it was, in my opinion, until Covid-19 considered in Singapore as a good-to-have learning method that was never meant for large scale use in mainstream education. It has helped to flag out many learning points for teachers, students and parents.
Now is perhaps the time for a paradigm shift from “a sage on stage to the guide by the side”. While much has improved in the past decade, the importance of fostering the ability for self-directed learning and exploration in our students from a young age is further highlighted as students with these abilities naturally do much better in a HBL environment.”
- Yee Jenn En, Edtech system developer and father of three school-age children
“The global pandemic has inevitably shaken up the education industry and many EdTech companies and education providers are rapidly developing innovative methods to help learners embrace home-based learning using a variety of online contents, communication and collaborative tools.
When the govt suspended all centre-based tuition and enrichment classes, many private education providers were caught off-guard and were either scrambling to offer quick-fix online solution or taking a wait and see approach. I noticed that some small to mid-size education providers were nimble and even better prepared to meet the demand of online learning than larger private education providers. My child is currently enrolled with a mid-size enrichment centre and I’m delighted that they came up with feasible tech solutions for learning to continue.
Covid-19 has created a paradigm shift from conventional learning. I believe this pandemic will encourage more government and private firms to tie up with emerging EdTech start-ups to develop more effective online learning solutions and tools to help future-proofing their learning and development strategies. Future learning will be a different experience and I believe that post covid-19 will make learning more immersive, interactive and fun for everyone. “
- Marvin Ang, EdTech and education business management for 20 years and parent of a primary school child
“I think HBL will change the way enrichment classes can be delivered. Children will spend less time travelling to and from the learning centre. Parents do not have to worry about making arrangements for someone to drop-off and pick-up the children. From the learning centre perspective, they can run more classes with existing centre capacity or even reduced their capacity – it is a matter of finding a sweet spot.”
- Francis Tan, former regional CIO of a publicly listed global insurer and father of two primary school children who attend classes with learning centres.
“The HBL requires each student to operate from a device; this is a financial burden on the family. We are fortunate to own a notebook which my 2 kids use for respective online homework before the virus situation took place. However the notebook has to be used by my wife for WFH. When the HBL was announced, we had to ‘beg, borrow and steal’ because retail outlets were very quickly out of stock. Such a massive HBL exercise could have been better planned.”
- Jarron Foo, a parent who responded on my Facebook
“Home Based Learning complements the learning outcomes of childcare, with emphasis still on the human touch such as the tender loving care (TLC) component, that can never be substituted. Nevertheless, the world has been thrust into a period of isolation with the lockdown, yet we have never been more closely connected during this ‘Great Displacement.’
Kids Mansion Childcare is greatly encouraged by the way our teachers have risen up to the occasion, while providing guided home-based learning and fostering closer collaboration with parents to come up with materials to actively engage with the child. With regular Zoom sessions and frequent communications, this “crisis” has opened up a whole new opportunity for parents to understand the needs of teachers and all stakeholders to show care in a more rounded and positive manner. It transcends beyond the physical boundaries of just a preschool settings and normal schedules. It is truly an exemplary example of how it takes a village to educate the child, constantly in contact with the parents.
It takes a paradigm shift for all, in our quest to support the child’s overall holistic development, as there are new skills that all of us have picked up like empathy and resilience juxtaposed with technology. Cleanliness and hygiene standards are all stepped up, with regular temperature taking and water drinking, frequent hand washing with soap and sanitizing the surface area after every activity, combined with social distancing and technology solutions to track and trace being the norm. We look forward towards heralding a new level of normalcy and embracing it, in the way we look after our children after Covid-19.”
- Benny Lim, Principal of Kids Mansion Childcare, The Art & Science preschool.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has thrust us into the sudden and large-scale use of online learning. Preschool education is traditionally based on close relationships and interactions between the children and teachers. Going online during this period has made us realise that e-learning need not be mutually exclusive with classroom lessons. It can be integrated into and complement the traditional curriculum, helping children and adults pick up new modes of learning and skill sets in a guided way. And it certainly gives new meaning to the phrase ‘Learning beyond the classroom’ during this period of time. We are happy that our teachers all coped well despite the challenges of having to go fully Home Based Learning for such an extended period.”
- Ngiau Suan Lai, Principal of The Children’s Place (a preschool in Tanglin)
“Preschool students learning happens in a social setting. A guided home-based learning is preferred to independent sessions for our young students. During Covid-19, many teachers are thrust into doing live video lessons for the very first time in their careers. Synchronous online learning is very different from classroom teaching. Besides a change in mindset and attitude, teachers also require a different pedagogy for learning and teaching. There are vast opportunities for research into how synchronous online learning can be effectively used for young children.
The responses from our students and teachers have shown us the possibilities of doing more blended learning post Covid-19 for guided inquiry-based learning where use of such technologies can be helpful.”
- Sharon Ngoi, Principal, Barker Road Methodist Church Kindergarten. BRMCK is on the inquiry-based International Baccalaureate Primary Year Programme.
“Home based learning has radically changed perspectives on the role educators and parents play in the education of a child. Most pedagogy recognises the role of parents’ support in education as a fundamental. Traditional education however, is heavily reliant on the role of the educator.
Home based learning has highlighted the important of such support and impact that parents have in education. As an Educator, supporting these parents is critical in ensuring thar the children continue to develop holistically.
To do so, I had to relook at the curriculum that I was to deliver. Pre-recorded video lessons was something that aided in the formal learning and instruction. I even made my own Youtube videos so my students can see me at their convenience. Our company had compiled a database of videos from different teachers from different centres. This helped to empower the parents with resources to guide their child in their education.
Moving forward, schools can consider compiling databases or even recording down key lessons for children who are absent or unwell. When returning from long absences, most time spent in during curriculum is to catch up on content that was missed. Compiling a database will help children who missed the lesson stay on track and allow the teacher to revise and work on new curriculum and concepts with such children. “
- Faith Yee, preschool teacher for over 5 years.
“The pandemic has sparked the rush to online learning. We adapted very quickly and immediately switched to Zoom live lessons. We also had been using EdTech solutions for a while, such as KooBits for Math, News Apps for English and Kahoot for Science and general learning. Hence, our tutors and students were able to switch over quite fast after some teething issues.
When we did trial online classes, we found some parents even wanted only the online session in future as logistics will be much easier for them. We believe many will explore this option going forward.”
- Lee Meng Hui, an engineer turned founder of Yen’s Academy, a learning centre for Math, Science and English and a father to two boys.
“The pandemic has opened up a whole new world for learning. Many parents used to think that only face to face is effective. Now that everyone from schools to tuition centres had to go on home based learning, people have been forced to adopt. Many who were initially skeptical of online learning have accepted and found it to be as effective and even more convenient.
Covid-19 is a wake-up call for educators to be prepared. I have been dabbling in different EdTech solutions for many years already. I was fortunate to have a young and creative team with me when the shutdown happened and they came up with all sorts of solutions to overcome what we thought would be difficult. The pandemic also saw many EdTech content companies offering free solutions which I had the chance to try and found them to be really useful for our online lessons. Students though, need to be disciplined for online learning to be effective.
Moving forward, there will be more who will accept remote live teaching as an option.”
- Teo Lay Leng, co-founder of Ignium Academy and tutor / educator for 28 years.
“This has been the most sustained experiment in working from home, social distancing, e-teaching and so on, and we should try to keep some of the benefits”
- Donald Low, Professor of Practice in Public Policy at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology
Written by Yee Jenn Jong. Jenn Jong founded ASKnLearn in 2000 and sold the business in 2007. He now participates in various education ventures and has been a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from 2011-2015. The views expressed here are his personal views.