NHB programme takes students on virtual tours

Pupils of Qihua Primary School taking a virtual tour of Sultan Mosque yesterday with the help of a remotely controlled mobile monitor and Mr Robert Chan (on screen), 70, a volunteer guide with the National Heritage Board's Preservation of Sites and M
Pupils of Qihua Primary School taking a virtual tour of Sultan Mosque yesterday with the help of a remotely controlled mobile monitor and Mr Robert Chan (on screen), 70, a volunteer guide with the National Heritage Board's Preservation of Sites and Monuments division.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

They may have been in a classroom 23km from the Sultan Mosque, but that did not stop the pupils of Qihua Primary School from touring the iconic place of worship in Kampong Glam yesterday.

The 38 Primary 3 pupils were on a virtual excursion of the mosque from their school in Woodlands.

It was part of a trial by the National Heritage Board (NHB) to tap technology so that schools can still "visit" national monuments.

The pupils toured the mosque using a remote-controlled mobile monitor, dubbed a mobile telepresence robot. They used a computer to control the robot, while a tour guide accompanied it in the mosque. The tour guide also took questions from the children.

The robot allowed them to zoom in on features of interest, for instance, the mosque's architecture and furnishings, which were heavily influenced by the Indo-Saracenic style - a combination of traditional Indian and Islamic elements with European architectural features.

The pupils also used the robot to navigate parts of the mosque usually not accessible to the public for tours, such as the ablution area - a place for cleaning and washing - and the prayer hall.

With its assisted driving function, the robot can adjust its speed to avoid hitting people or objects.

It was a first for schools here.

Mrs Lee Hui Feng, principal of Qihua Primary, said: "The virtual live tour at Sultan Mosque was a wonderful way for our students to experience Singapore's rich heritage, especially during this period of disruption. Virtual experiences like this can open up new possibilities for young people to discover Singapore and beyond."

The mobile telepresence robot is currently in use at Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Indian Heritage Centre under another NHB programme, which is targeted at people who are unable to go on heritage tours owing to illness, mobility issues or physical disabilities.

Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's deputy chief executive for policy and community, said the NHB is testing the Monumental Robo-Tours programme with Qihua Primary and Edgefield Primary before making it available to all primary and secondary schools from next month.

 
 

OPENING UP NEW POSSIBILITIES

The virtual live tour at Sultan Mosque was a wonderful way for our students to experience Singapore's rich heritage, especially during this period of disruption. Virtual experiences like this can open up new possibilities for young people to discover Singapore and beyond.

MRS LEE HUI FENG, principal of Qihua Primary School, on the novel "field trip".

 

"We developed this programme because we note that students are encouraged to stay in school and, as a result, some students may be missing their regular learning journeys to our monuments," he said.

Besides Sultan Mosque, the former Fullerton Building and Chesed-El Synagogue will join the programme next year. In time, NHB hopes to add more of Singapore's 73 national monuments to the list.

Interested schools can e-mail NHB_NationalMonuments@nhb.gov.sg from next month to register for 45-minute slots.

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2020, with the headline 'NHB programme takes students on virtual tours'. Subscribe