The Straits Times says

Safe at home but studies can continue

Singapore's school students began home-based learning yesterday with a few not unexpected hiccups as the online system's resources slowed down initially. But with the experience gained from last year's circuit breaker, there should be a smoother transition overall from physical learning at school to virtual learning from homes this time round. This is as schools, students and parents are better prepared for such a contingency. Some parents, while anxious and expecting problems, particularly those with young children or children with special needs, have already thought of how to get around them.

Home-based learning for overly extended periods is not the best way for children and young people to learn. But it is seen as a necessary step by parents and the authorities here, given the sharp spike in the number of community cases of Covid-19 and the higher number of children who have contracted the disease compared with the number last year during the first wave of the pandemic. At a time when it is unclear why more infections in the community are seen among children, it is only prudent to take precautions to keep them safe. Some parents suggest that the school holidays be brought forward as there is just over a week of term time left. However, the Education Ministry's approach is to bring down the level of activity of students outside the home as much as possible. Having them learning from home will mean they are meaningfully engaged in their homes. Besides, it will allow schools to complete this term's curriculum instead of pushing it to the next term.

With working from home being the default, many parents are also home to supervise their children. For those who cannot make alternative childcare arrangements, schools and student care centres remain open to them. However, as experts have noted, home-based learning should not be a long-term strategy. This is because it can increase inequity - some families can cope better than others because they have better resources such as available spaces, and some parents are better able than others to supervise their children's learning. Also, young children, with their shorter attention spans and need for physical activity, find virtual learning difficult. The education minister acknowledged as much, saying that having schools go into full home-based learning for a prolonged period is not a sustainable solution.

But the authorities are also thinking ahead, to have targeted measures such as ring-fencing affected schools while allowing others to continue normally. Another measure is vaccination for the young. The Government has already approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those aged 12 to 15. More measures will have to be brought out to keep up with the fast-changing situation to ensure that students and education are not hampered by current or future outbreaks.

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