Parents juggle working from home and kids' schoolwork amid Covid-19 crisis

Some struggle to manage their time as home-based learning for schools kicks off

Kevin Yu, seven, doing his schoolwork at home yesterday, accompanied by his sister Nicole, four. PHOTO: COURTESY OF YU JIARONG Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho doing her work while keeping an eye on her children Gabriel and Natalie, who are in Primary 5 and Primary
Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho doing her work while keeping an eye on her children Gabriel and Natalie, who are in Primary 5 and Primary 3, respectively, at Jurong West Primary, on their first day of home-based learning yesterday. Ms Kong-Ho, who is in her mid-30s and an assistant director at a university, has been working from home since last month.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Kevin Yu, seven, doing his schoolwork at home yesterday, accompanied by his sister Nicole, four. PHOTO: COURTESY OF YU JIARONG Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho doing her work while keeping an eye on her children Gabriel and Natalie, who are in Primary 5 and Primary
Kevin Yu, seven, doing his schoolwork at home yesterday, accompanied by his sister Nicole, four. PHOTO: COURTESY OF YU JIARONG

Supervising their children's lessons at home while working is proving a learning experience for many parents as full home-based learning kicked off yesterday to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Ms Michele Tan, an administrative executive who is working from home, had to wake up at 7am to do her work so that she could focus on her Primary 3 daughter from 9.30am onwards.

"This is only the first day. I will have to work out a schedule for the rest of the month," Ms Tan, who is in her mid-30s, told The Straits Times.

Home-based learning will continue until May 4, which is when the stay-home circuit-breaker period is scheduled to end.

Parents interviewed yesterday also said schools are giving their students varying amounts of work on the Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS) platform.

Some received detailed checklists, while others were given just a few assignments. When contacted, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said schools and teachers decide what is best for their students.

They "have the autonomy to decide on the sequencing of topics, pace of coverage and pedagogy applied, based on the profile and learning needs of their students", said Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum). Teachers will decide on the content to be taught based on the learning stage of their classes, he added, and schools will keep the load manageable.

In general, primary, secondary and junior college students are given four, five and six hours of home-based learning a day, respectively, and the pace and scope of homework and assignments will align with these hours.

"Teachers will also discuss how (students) can be better engaged with their parents," Mr Sng said.

Ms Tan's daughter received a detailed to-do list on the day's schoolwork, ranging from academic subjects, such as English and mathematics, to non-academic subjects, such as music and physical education.

Ms Tan said many lower pri-mary pupils, including her daughter, found it hard to concentrate without a teacher being physi-cally present, so parents have to be around.

"My daughter is not used to home-based learning, so she is not a very independent learner yet. She kept asking me questions, and I also had to help with technical issues such as websites not loading or videos not playing smoothly."

Her concern is that the children will miss interacting with their classmates and teachers.

"Parents (of children in) my daughter's class are trying to arrange Zoom sessions for the kids to have communication time... Some classes already have a 'Zoom recess', short breaks where the children eat meals together via video call."

Other parents working from home during this period, such as Mrs Janeshtha Vaswani, 47, also struggled to juggle their work and help their children.

The assistant manager at a medical school said: "My son keeps asking me to check his work before he submits it... But we still have our own work to do and take our own calls. So, it can be difficult to cope."

Mrs Jasmine Teng, 40, who is in human resources, said it can be "burdensome" to have to move between different online learning platforms and websites.

But her two children, in Primary 4 and 5, have been attending online tuition classes at OneSanta for some time. "They are quite used to learning online. If they have any questions, they can clarify them with their online tutors," she said.

Some parents like Mr Aaron Koh, 44, who has a Primary 6 son, said lessons went smoothly as they had done extensive preparation.

He had all the required passwords ready, and also bookmarked links his son's teachers had sent for easy access. He had also bought more paper and ink cartridges for his printer at home.

Mr Koh, who works in software sales, has been working from home for the past two years and as a result, he was "probably more prepared than most parents".

"My son can be distracted sometimes... so, I have to periodically check on him. But I know how to manage my time."

Secondary 2 student Chloe Wong said she spent about five hours on home-based learning using SLS.

She messaged her English literature teacher on WhatsApp for some help, and the teacher "was a bit slow" in her reply. "But she teaches the subject for all classes at my level, so I understand."

SEE FORUM


All you need to know about home-based learning

Q Some schools seem to be giving their students more work for home-based learning (HBL) than others, according to parents. Is there a standard guide on assigning work?

A Schools and teachers have the autonomy to decide on the sequencing of topics, pace of coverage and pedagogy to be applied, based on the profile and learning needs of their students. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has given schools an HBL guide and sample plans.

Schools will also provide broad guidance to teachers, including how to ensure continuity of learning in the planned curriculum and how to calibrate the appropriate learning load for students. Teachers will monitor their students' progress in learning through their HBL participation and assignments completed.

Q Now that school-based mid-year examinations are cancelled, how will MOE/schools support my child who will be sitting the national examinations (PSLE and N, O and A levels)?

A Schools will review and adjust their plans to ensure continuity of teaching and learning through HBL.

They will provide adequate and appropriate opportunities (for example, quizzes, practice papers, performance tasks) to assess students' ability to apply their learning across a range of topics or subjects, and to familiarise the students with the national examination requirements.

Teachers will guide, monitor and assess students' learning, plus provide them with feedback for improvement. During the HBL period, teachers are also still available for consultations remotely should students encounter challenges in their lessons and assignments.

Q If HBL is prolonged, what will happen to exams?

A For school-based exams, schools will re-view and adjust their plans to ensure continuity of teaching, learning and assessment through HBL.

For national exams, MOE recognises these are major milestones and will ensure they will proceed as far as possible so that graduating students are not disadvantaged.

Various measures will be taken to lessen the impact of prolonged HBL on students. For example, if curriculum time cannot be fully recovered, certain topics may be removed from the exams, and the marking scheme will take this into account.

MOE said it will also take into consideration the exceptional circumstances when awarding grades to ensure no student is disadvantaged. As of now, national exams will proceed with no adjustments necessary.

Q How are MOE/schools supporting students' mental well-being?

A While some students will experience disruption and feel worried, or may also feel a loss of freedom and miss interacting with their friends, teachers will contact them regularly to check in on them. They will refer students to school counsellors when more support is needed.

Students are encouraged to take active steps to maintain their well-being, including keeping to regular routines, taking care of their physical health and maintaining social relationships via technology with their classmates and friends. Students are encouraged to alert a trusted adult if a friend is distressed.

Q There were teething issues with accessing the Student Learning Space (SLS) during last week's one-day HBL. Is the SLS equipped for full HBL?

A While most students and teachers were able to access SLS last week, some saw intermittent availability of the system on the morning of the first day of HBL. MOE said it resolved the issue quickly to better manage the rise in user numbers, and added that it will ensure the system remains accessible throughout the full HBL period.

SOURCE: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2020, with the headline 'Parents juggle working from home and kids' schoolwork'. Subscribe