Sitting in single file in their classroom, according to their class register numbers, a class of Primary 6 pupils ate their home-packed food in silence.
This was an unusual scene at Jing Shan Primary School in Ang Mo Kio yesterday during recess. Previously, the pupils would typically be playing games.
At lunch time, they were again sitting apart from one another, this time in the canteen, occupying seats labelled with their register numbers. If they spoke, it seemed to be in hushed tones, as teachers reminded them not to chat while eating because they were mask-less.
These safe distancing measures during meals were among several new rules students had to follow when schools reopened yesterday.
Other changes they will have to grow accustomed to, as part of the new normal in schools, include wearing facial masks throughout the day, not talking to friends without their masks on and walking in single file at least 1m apart.
Still, many like Primary 6 pupil Japhanie Tan were delighted to be back in school, after nearly two months of not seeing their friends face to face. "I am very excited to come back to school because I can step out of my home and meet my friends. And this time, I can see my whole class," said the 12-year-old. "My best friend since Primary 3 sits in front of me, so I am very happy."
Japhanie, whose father is a senior manufacturing engineer and mother an accounts assistant, had returned to school a few times in the past fortnight to attend classes arranged specially for Primary 6 pupils, who will be taking the Primary School Leaving Examination later this year.
But she did not get to see all her classmates as the lessons were staggered. "I missed eating school food, especially laksa. I also missed the interactions with my teachers and friends," she said.
"On the computer, you can't ask questions whenever you want because you will disrupt the lesson. I also tried talking and playing games with my friends on Zoom and Houseparty, but it is very different," said Japhanie, who has an older brother.
Asked if it was difficult to get used to any of the new routines, Japhanie said: "Wearing a mask is not super hard, it is just that we can't hear one another very well and we have to speak louder."
Recess in the classroom "seemed a bit quiet", but she is confident she will adapt to it, albeit slowly.
Another change was the way the physical education lesson was conducted. In the school hall yesterday, Japhanie and her classmates learnt how to dribble a ball on the spot while standing 2m apart at markers on the floor. They hardly moved from their spots, except to collect and return the balls, again doing so in single file. "We just bounced the ball, so there was less interaction," said Japhanie.
Madam Shakila Jamal Mohamed, Japhanie's form teacher and English language teacher, said the pupils had previously got used to routines like wiping down their tables and washing their hands. "But with masks on now, it is a big change, because they love to talk to one another, especially during recess and breaks," she said.
"They are children and need to understand the 'whys' behind all the measures. So, we tell them about the Covid-19 pandemic and why there is a need for social responsibility and good hygiene."
Correction note: The story has been edited for clarity.