SINGAPORE - Some parents of primary school children have called for home-based learning (HBL) to start earlier - next Monday (Sept 20), instead of Sept 27 as mandated by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
Some expressed concerns about their children being potentially exposed to the coronavirus in school in the coming week, while others said starting HBL earlier would allow children serving leave of absence or quarantine orders to still attend classes.
MOE announced on Saturday that all Primary 1 to 5 pupils will move to HBL from Sept 27 until the end of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) on Oct 6.
This comes in the wake of surging Covid-19 cases, and will better protect younger children who are not yet medically eligible for vaccination, said MOE.
Not all parents were enthused about the news, citing the chronic challenges many families have faced in the past - distracted children and disruptions to the adults' schedules among them.
Six parents who The Straits Times spoke to said HBL is disruptive to their children's learning, as they have difficulty focusing on online lessons.
Food and beverage supervisor Cherry Le, who has a son in Secondary 1 and a daughter in Primary 4, said: "My kids often surf the Net, have YouTube open on another tab during Zoom lessons, or are distracted by their phones right beside them."
She said less-motivated pupils, who need in-person supervision, will be affected by the arrangement.
Ms Serene Tan Siew Pei, who has four children in Primary 1 and 4, and in Secondary 1 and 3, said: "It was chaotic when everyone was home during the last lockdown.
"I had four kids at home with borrowed laptops, fighting over the laptops. During their lessons on Zoom, they could hear other students' parents on Zoom, working from home."
She said the children ended lessons earlier on HBL - around 11am, as compared to ending at 1.30pm in school - and had nothing to do afterwards.
The housewife, 46, said HBL would not be effective in containing the spread of the virus, as parents still take their children out to crowded places.
Her husband and older children could still bring the virus back to the family, Mrs Tan said, noting that HBL would reduce the risk of Covid-19 only if all other activities were stopped as well.
In comments on ST's Facebook page, some parents also called for a default work from home arrangement so they can care for their children during HBL.
However, other parents are taking the upcoming HBL in their stride, having become accustomed to the arrangement from past experience.
Mr Toh Kwei Kuan, 47, said his daughter was quarantined after being exposed to Covid-19 at the student care centre in Queenstown Primary School, and had one week of HBL this past week.
The storeman noted that younger children like those in Primary 1 and 2 were likely to need more supervision and help during HBL.
But not all parents are familiar with computer equipment or can supervise their children in their schoolwork either, he said.
For instance, he had to lend his brother a laptop and teach him how to use it when his niece - who is in Primary 1 - started HBL this year.
Mr Toh added that his brother's wife, a housewife who is originally from Indonesia and does not speak English, is unable to guide their daughter.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from the Rophi Clinic, said he does not think the move to HBL will significantly reduce case numbers, but it will "slow the burden of hospitalisation".
While most children do not need hospitalisation, hospital beds are filling up due to rising severe Covid-19 cases, and there is a fear of a lack of beds. Moreover, when a child is admitted, an adult usually stays over and takes up another bed, he said.
Reducing the risk of children spreading the virus to adults is another benefit. However, he noted that "the transmission has been primarily among adults, and then the family - few got it the other way".
However, he noted that HBL is a "double-edged sword", as essential workers at hospitals who are also parents may be overburdened, having to juggle work and their children at home.
Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that allowing several days of absence from school before the start of the PSLE helps to minimise disruptions not only to the exam, but also to parents and students.
He said: "It would be worse if the HBL started abruptly from next week for instance, and lasted all the way until Oct 6.
"We have gone further down the path of endemicity. Most children will have mild or asymptomatic Covid-19, and will recover fairly quickly."
Prof Hsu added: "Of course, children also have a life outside school and may potentially be infected via other community interactions, but this would be beyond the control of MOE."
As a parent, said Ms Tan, "I feel that it's a matter of social responsibility for us to teach our kids to be hygienic and take precautions".
She added: "Since Covid-19 is going to be endemic, it's not a feasible long-term solution to keep closing schools."