Learning After Covid-19 – What May Change?

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:

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Educators

“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.”

“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.”

“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.

EdTech Practitioners

“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。

而从长远来说,线上的教学比例肯定是会一定程度的增长,而且教学模式也有更多的可能性,在新加坡,线上线下融合的形式可能会成为一种潮流。

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.

Parents

“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

Preschool Educators

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.

Tuition

“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.

Economist

“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.

Learn, Pause, Create

The year 2020 has been a crazy year. The Covid-19 virus which began in China has caused panic and disruption to learning and business activities. At the epicentre of the outbreak in China, entire cities and provinces had to be sealed off. Schools were closed and some remained closed at the time of this article in some cities and countries. With factories closed, global supplies were affected as China is the factory of the world. Many finished goods and raw parts come from China. With China not producing or shipping out, activities elsewhere in the world has to slow down. Travel dropped dramatically. Hotels are mostly empty. Malls and shops in badly affected places are quiet.

It is like the world has hit the PAUSE button.

It is not the first time the world had to pause. It is not the first time people had to pause. If you are quarantined or infected, you have to be isolated, away from work or school or whatever you are doing.

In 1665, there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague (Great Plague of London) in England. It was the last of the many great plagues that hit England since the 14th century. Cambridge University was closed. Issac Newton was forced to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. You know the famous Apple story. While sitting in his garden one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree. He pondered. Why did the apple fall down? Why not sideways? Why not upwards? Why does it seem to fall towards the centre. Matter must attract matter. If the earth attracts the apple towards its centre, then the apple must also attract the earth but in a much smaller way because its mass is very small. The apple started with zero velocity. Then it accelerated towards the earth, A force must be exerting on it. Let’s call this force Gravity. Objects in space also attract each other with a force that affects velocity such that it creates an orbit.

Newton was forced to pause from his work at the university. He had spent time learning and teaching. With nothing to do at home, he had the time to think and explore. From the thought on how the apple fell, he worked on all the relevant physics and created the famous Newton laws and established the law on gravitational force. His findings were so fundamental that they form the basis for a large part of Physics and were the absolute truth about the universe until Einstein came up with an alternative model to explain behaviours that were not explainable with Newton’s findings.

Next we come to Albert Einstein. He is an interesting guy. He did not like to speak when he was young. He is supposed to have spoken only around 4-5 years old, prompting a diagnosis that he was developmentally slow or ‘stupid’ (to be blunt). He did not have great success in his early years. He was quite a rebel in school. He did not make it to the prestigious Zurich Polytechnic School on his first try because he did badly in some subjects (although he was great in the Physics and Maths papers.

“Logic will get your from A to B. Imagination takes you everywhere.” Albert Einstein. Copyright 360 Education Pte Ltd

After university, he could not get a job as teaching assistant despite many tries. He ended up as a clerk in the Swiss Patent office. Boring job processing other people’s patent applications.

It was at this mundane job that he had the time to think about the universe. He added the space and time dimensions to the understanding of gravity from Newton – objects’ gravity wraps spacetime, causing objects’ paths to curve in the presence of gravity. Who would believe a young ‘crazy’ so-called scientist working in a patent office against the great Issac Newton? It took a solar eclipse in 1919 for astronomers to observe clearly the lights from a faraway cluster of stars. Einstein’s mathematics correctly predicted the path of the light as they bent through the sun’s gravitational field but not Newton’s. You can read more about this Einstein-Newton challenge here. From then on, Einstein became an instant celebrity. His works are astonishing as he only owned the most basic telescope. Everything was worked out in his mind with great imagination. His works start with imagining a hypothetical situation that cannot be physically recreated (because of then limitations in equipment and understanding of the world) and he worked out the mathematical solutions to account for these.

Another case, this time a young man, Jacob Barnett. At age of 2, he was diagnosed with severe autism, Asperger Syndrome. His parents were told that he would probably never read or even tie his own shoelaces. He was sent to special needs school and the educators would try to get him to do things he ought to know how to do. He showed no interest. His mother took him out and home-schooled him, giving things he liked to do. He was fascinated with light, shapes and things in nature. He was so fascinated with thinking about the phenomenal of what he saw that he was not interested to talk. Amazingly when he started to speak at age three, he spoke in four languages. He could talk about astrophysics at three years old despite no one teaching him.

Here’s a TEDtalk by Jacob when he was still a teenager (today he is only 22 years old). If you have no time to watch through the 16-min video, the summary of what he said is to Pause (stop learning), Think (including forgetting about established rules) and Create. He also covered what I just wrote about Newton and Einstein.

Of course, we must learn, as Jacob himself did. He enrolled into Princeton at age 10 and at age 15 in the prestigious Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He basically asked that we should pause to reflect and challenge what is known to create new solutions.

That reminds me of this Singapore Primary 1 student’s answers which created a stir on the Internet recently.

I think the 6-year old girl’s answers are interesting. They are not wrong. The teacher’s answers are correct too. It depends on what perspectives we have and how we interpret the question. The question is ambiguous because it is subjected to different interpretations. It would have been great for the teacher to say “See Me” and then check with the student what she was thinking of and given her correct if she could explain her answers.

If we are to be an innovative society and economy, we need to pause, reflect on established truths and models and see if we can create new solutions.

And if you think the examples are all about brilliant astrophysicists, there are examples in other disciplines too. Take art. Pablo Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Raphael is a great master artist in the same era as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Picasso first learnt art from a young age (his father was an art professor). He would have to learn the styles of famous old artists. He then innovated art by studying the African style and invented cubism. He later co-founded the collage method.

Vincent van Gogh started his art career miserably. No one wanted his paintings. He was drawing like everyone else. He got his brother to fund an art exhibition and they sold nothing. His brother told him that his paintings were too dark. No one would want these. Van Gogh listened and enrolled himself into a art university. With his bad temper, he quarreled with many including his lecturers. They failed him and asked him to repeat his course. But in that pause from trying to sell his art, he invented a whole new style with what he learnt in art school. He quit school, changed to bright colours and expressive strokes. He paused, reflected, and created.

So did Swiss-German artist Paul Klee who had no breakthrough in his art for some 10 years until he went on a trip to Tunisa in North Africa and came back inspired with a whole new art style based on shapes and colours.

Student volunteers creating a modern van Gogh’s Starry Night in 5 minutes – copyright 360 Education Pte Ltd

Lastly, I share my own story about PAUSING, THINKING and CREATING.

In June 1999, I was down with Chickenpox. I was given two weeks of medical leave. Just a month before that, I had attended a work-related course where we were challenged to look at our business models and see how we can create extraordinary value by doing something different or capturing new technologies.

With two weeks of leave away from a busy work schedule, I had the time to pause and think. I reflected on the message from the course that I had attended. The Internet scene was starting to become hot in Singapore. In the USA, there were already earlier dotcom successes, with startups using the Internet to break the established rules of business through new models. I was trained in Computer Science. I had ended up in the education field by accident. I decided it was time to get into e-Learning. With business ideas made on the back of envelops and scrap papers, I pitched to friends (who were not afraid of Chickenpox) for investment. I eventually started ASKnLearn (today renamed as WizLearn) in Jan 2000 and we evolved it into a popular e-Learning platform for the schools (I sold and left the business in 2009).

Today, many people are quarantined or in isolation. The world is in a PAUSE mode. Isaac Newton had to pause due to the plague. Einstein had to pause because he was not accepted to teach at the universities. Jacob Barnett had to pause because he was taken off special education school as he was not learning. Picasso, van Gogh and other great artists had their pause moments too before re-emerging with something special.

PAUSE we must, sometimes. In pausing, we can continue to think and create. I am not saying we should not learn. We learn all the time. Having the fundamentals are important. How we absorb and apply what we learn and then create new value is even more important.

Have a good PAUSE, once in a while.

Written by Yee Jenn Jong. The views expressed here are his personal opinions.

Viruses Versus Bacteria – Myths and Facts

(Updated 18 Feb 2020 to reflect new information)

The news about the novel coronavirus (now named Covid-19) is everywhere now. We have compiled some quick information about the new virus and what the differences between viruses and bacteria are.

Antibiotics for flu? No!

Facts about bacteria:

  1. Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms. They are small and everywhere—in the air, soil and water, on plants and in animals. Most bacteria, including those in our intestines, are harmless. In fact, we sometimes use bacteria to help us digest food. Probiotic bacteria such as those in your Yakult, Vitagen, or kefir drink are all examples of good bacteria. They help digest food and destroy disease-causing microbes. Fewer than 1 percent of bacteria cause disease in people.
  2. What disease can you get from bacteria? These include sore (strep) throat, tuberculosis, and urinary tract infections (UTI).
  3. Antibiotics can kill or slow the growth of bacteria. They are commonly used to treat more serious bacteria illness. However, bacteria can adapt to antibiotics so overdose may create new strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotics can also kill off healthy bacteria in your body so doctors will not prescribe antibiotics unless necessary.

Facts about viruses

  1. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria and cannot live on their own. A virus must attach itself to a cell and then reprograms the cell to reproduce itself.  It is so small that most can only be seen with powerful electron microscopes. Around 30,000 to 750,000 of them need to be lined up together to form 1 cm. Imagine the whole population of Singapore lined up in just around 10 cm of space – That’s how small they can be!
  2. Viruses that cause diseases are termed as ‘virulent’. Common virus-caused diseases include the common cold, AIDS, cold sores and chickenpox.
  3. Viral infections require either vaccinations to prevent them or antiviral drugs to treat them. Antiviral drugs do not destroy a virus but inhibit its development.
  4. The body is usually capable of recovering on its own without treatment for viral infection as the body has natural immunity to fight off viral infections. Those who are young or old or already have other illnesses or a weakened body immunity however, are more likely to die or unable to cure itself from viral infections.

Myths

  1. We need antibiotics for viral infections. Antibiotics are NOT effective against viruses, unless there is also a bacterial infection together with the viral infection. So there is NO need for antibiotics against flu. When antibiotics are prescribed for a viral infection, it is to safeguard against secondary infection by bacteria as the immune system is weakened or there is already a bacterial infection with the viral infection.
  2. The medicine we get for flu will cure the body. Actually, most medicine given for flu like Panadol and cough mixture provide relief from symptoms like pain, fever and cough. The body is the one that usually heals itself.
  3. I only need to take the flu immunization jab once. Wrong! Viruses mutate all the time and each season they are different. Therefore, one needs to take the flu jab for each flu season. But when we have contacted the flu from a virus once, our body will generally be immune against that virus because we have developed the antibodies against it. We fall sick again from flu because we get infected with a different flu virus strain.
Antibodies are Y-shaped molecules, consisting of two heavy chains (H chains) and two light chains (L chains) arranged as shown in the diagram

How do they spread? Both viral and bacterial infections are spread in similar ways:

  1. Coughing and sneezing
  2. Contact with infected people, especially body contact
  3. Contact with contaminated surfaces, food, and water
  4. Contact with infected creatures, including pets, livestock, and insects like fleas and ticks

Why do people confuse between viruses and bacteria?

Viruses and bacteria illnesses usually cause similar symptoms. Some illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis and diarrhoea can be caused by either a virus or a bacterium.

A doctor may be able to tell through a medical history and physical examination or through blood or urine tests or a spinal culture.

What is the coronavirus?

Coronaviruses magnified

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses first detailed in the 1960s. They get their name from the distinctive corona or ‘crown’ of sugary-proteins that come out from the envelope surrounding the virus particle. Most coronaviruses cause just minor illness in mammals and birds but several rare strains have been deadly in animals and humans, including the new Covid-19, SARS and MERS.

ovid-19 s appears to have likely originated from bats and then jumped to a different species and finally onto humans. Because it is new, the human body does not have the antibodies to fight it naturally and there are no antiviral drugs that can fight it yet as well.

Coronaviruses can give rise to a variety of symptoms in different animals. Some strains cause diarrhoea in pigs and in turkeys, and most of the time infections can be compared to a bad cold, causing respiratory problems such as a runny nose and sore throat.

Covid-19 is called a novel coronavirus because it has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. The initial batch of people infected appeared to have either worked at or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan. Then it got transmitted from human to human. It is important to note that viruses can jump species from anywhere in the world, such as MERS from camels to humans in the middle east and Swine flu (H1N1) from pigs to humans in the Americas.

This virus can cause pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs). Those ill typically suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. Antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work because this is a new virus. Patients may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. As with most who catch flu, many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

What can one do against Covid-19?

As no cure has yet to be found, the general advice is to avoid catching the virus by maintaining good personal hygiene and avoiding crowds, and to develop stronger body immunity with good rest, lots of water and vitamin C. Wash your hands with soap frequently or use sanitizer if there is no running water nearby. The encouraging thing is that scientists globally have been sharing data and research findings openly in the rapid race to find a cure. The world has seen deadlier virus attacks such as the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed over 50 million people and yet recovered, so there is optimism that we will once again ride this one out.

Daily Vitamin C for teachers at our Kids Mansion Childcare during this Covid-19 period to help build immunity

Children at Kids Mansion Childcare with self-made sanitizers to protect themselves and to give to other children at the centre.
Ingredients for home-made sanitizer. Alcohol should be at 70% or higher to be effective against viruses and bacteria.

Meanwhile, do stay healthy!

Sources:

  1. https://www.healthymepa.com/2017/02/21/do-you-need-antibiotics/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/27/what-is-coronavirus-symptoms-sars-china-wuhan
  3. https://www.sciencealert.com/coronavirus
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_viruses
  5. https://www.geek.com/news/animation-perfectly-explains-how-your-body-fights-a-virus-1591668/

Quiz:

  1. Viruses are smaller than bacteria – True or False?
  2. Antibiotics can fight off viruses – True or False?
  3. We need good body immunity to fight off viruses already in our body – True or False?

Answers: True, False, True