SINGAPORE - Starting April 1 next week, all schools will conduct one day of home-based learning a week, in the light of the recent spike of Covid-19 cases in Singapore.
Primary schools will do so on Wednesdays, secondary schools on Thursdays, and junior colleges and centralised institutes on Fridays.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday (March 27) that this move will better prepare parents and students for more days of home-based learning if and when required.
Schools will also stagger dismissal times to reduce the congestion when students take public transport or the school bus home.
Singapore has ramped up measures over the past few weeks progressively to curb the spread of the virus, said Mr Ong.
"So likewise, for schools, which are a major part of people's lives, we have also been stepping up (measures). So we will not want to do something dramatic, sudden, that will result in school closure," he said.
"We still have options. We are not like many countries, where they are forced into sudden school closures."
When asked how long this home-based learning arrangement will last, Mr Ong said: "It depends how long the virus lasts, and how long we feel it will be around."
Explaining the Education Ministry's thinking behind its decision, Mr Ong said: "If this virus behaves like influenza, that means children get it more than adults, and children become vectors for transmission, passing through the school, from one parent to another, one family to another, I think we would have closed schools long ago.
"But this virus behaves differently, which, therefore, gives us the option now to take precautions in school... and yet be able to keep school going, and, therefore, keep work (and) the economy going."
From next Monday (March 30), schools will provide instructions to students and parents on accessing the home-based learning materials. Assistance will be given to students who do not have access to digital devices when their learning requires it.
Students will have about four to five hours of learning on the day of home-based learning, of which two hours can be used to access digital devices.
It can come in different forms, through e-lessons, or other references like worksheets and textbooks. Teachers could also conduct lessons via "live" videos.
Schools will remain open for a small group of students whose parents are not able to make alternative childcare arrangements, and priority will be given to parents working in essential services such as healthcare or public transport.
A small number of teachers in schools will supervise these students.
Most teachers will stay at home on the day of home-based learning, while about 20 per cent of staff, including the principal, will remain in school.
Co-curricular activities (CCAs) will remain suspended for the rest of Term 2, and so will other activities that involve mingling of students across schools like the National School Games.
The Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation will be cancelled.
On Sunday, Mr Ong had said that he received many questions from parents, with some asking why the March holidays were not extended, especially given the rising numbers of imported Covid-19 cases and impending border closures.
He cited scientific evidence showing that young people are not spreaders of the virus, and said that closing schools would also disrupt the lives of many people, particularly parents who are both working, and who have limited childcare options.
Various precautionary measures have already been put in place and hygiene protocols have been stepped up. Students now only spend their time with those in their classes, with CCAs and inter-school activities suspended.
They sit apart in class and are reminded to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces.
Communal activities such as mass assemblies and school camps have been suspended. Recess timings are staggered and temperature checks are conducted daily.
Students who are not feeling well - be it with a cough, sore throat or a fever - will be placed in an isolation room in school or sent home.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mr Ong acknowledged that the latest move will affect working parents, and he urged employers to "be as understanding as possible".
"I expect other teething issues, whether there are enough devices, whether there are enough bandwidth at home... whether lessons are clear," he said.
Mr Ong added that schools conduct home-based learning regularly, and the ministry has been developing the Singapore Student Learning Space - an online learning platform - in the past two to three years.
On the role that teachers play, Mr Ong said: "Although teachers are not at the frontline battling with the virus in hospitals, you are at the frontline in terms of our response to the virus."
Thanking teachers for their work, he said: "If not for your work, there will be no confidence among parents to send their children to school."