Singapore children get ready for a third year of school amid Covid-19

Oncologist Tanujaa Rajasekaran with her husband Vickrem Vijayan and daughters Dipna, six, and Kiana, three. PHOTO: TANUJAA RAJASEKARAN

SINGAPORE - Oncologist Tanujaa Rajasekaran, 37, chose to pick up her six-year-old daughter's books at St Margaret's Primary School instead of opting for online delivery.

"My husband and I went down to collect her books with our two daughters so we could mentally prepare her that the new school is not going to be as small as her kindergarten," she said.

As students islandwide gear up for a third year of schooling amid Covid-19, parents of children starting Primary 1 said the absence of in-person orientations has spurred them to find creative ways to help their children transition to a new learning environment.

Mrs Yvonne Fan, 38, has been getting her children involved in every step of the process, from buying uniforms to writing their names on school books.

She said: "Every small moment, especially during Covid-19, needs to be celebrated. We've also started sleeping earlier in the week before school to prepare for waking up early."

The managing director of public relations firm Tate Anzur has three daughters aged three to eight.

Another mother, Madam Nur'afifah Mohd Hussain, 29, has been talking to her oldest son about his expectations of school and getting him excited about the new environment by letting him choose his stationery and lunch box.

The freelance educator and housewife said: "I've read to him books about safety such as body safety (guarding against inappropriate touching) and road safety, among other things, to rehearse what school will be like.

"Unfortunately, because of Covid-19, I can't go into school because of restrictions so he will just be picked up by the school bus."

Similar to last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will stagger reporting times for children so safe management measures can be implemented effectively.

On Tuesday (Jan 4), only Kindergarten 1 children in MOE kindergartens and Primary 1 pupils will report to their schools. This arrangement includes the primary and junior sections of special education schools.

Kindergarten 2 children and Primary 2 to 6 pupils will return to school a day later, on Wednesday.

Experts emphasise the importance of parents in supporting their children. Mr Bryan Tan, 45, chief executive of Centre for Fathering, Mums for Life and Dads for Life, said disruptions to normal school routines in the past two years have brought about an unprecedented amount of stress for children, and some may not be able to voice out what they are experiencing.

"It is therefore important for our children to know that their fathers are there to support them and are there for them when they encounter difficulties adjusting to these changes brought about by the pandemic," he added.

This year, fathers from more than 120 pre-schools, primary and secondary schools as well as institutes of higher learning will be writing notes of encouragement to ease their children into the new school year as part of the centre's Back To School With Dad initiative.

Ms Bernadette Yeo, co-founder of local start-up Bramble, which is developing a parent-child communication app, cautioned parents against rushing to troubleshoot their children's fears and anxieties over starting school.

The 25-year-old said: "Even with the best intentions, these tendencies trivialise or ignore your child's true feelings."

Ms Yeo added that mixed feelings of excitement or stress about a new school year are what parents have in common with their children and can create a good opportunity to begin a conversation about the year ahead.

She added: "For Primary 6 pupils, start the year off with positive affirmations and support, instead of nagging and threats.

"Instead of harping on 'how important this year is', use your words to remind your child that you are on their side."

And as the year progresses, parents told The Straits Times that they hope school life can revert to what it was before the pandemic.

Vocational institute lecturer Chia Jengwe, 48, said his son looks forward to getting a chance to swim in at least one competition.

Despite being picked for the school team at Primary 3, the 11-year-old - who will be in Primary 6 this year - has not participated in any competition because of the pandemic, said the single father of three children.

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