All schools will close from today to begin what will be a month-long home-based learning (HBL) exercise for all students to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Mention e-learning and many parents think of the tech problems that never fail to show up on a sanctioned portal - it used to be MC Online, but now it is Student Learning Space (SLS).
It's not known how long children need to stay out of school. Should the agony prolong, this work-from-home mother of a Primary 5 pupil has a wish list for the Education Ministry (MOE).
1. DITCH THE PASSWORD
My child's teacher is tired of resetting passwords for her students. I'm tired of remembering them too.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if access to SLS can be secured by SingPass, our national digital authentication system?
One million people here are already scanning their faces or fingerprints on their phones to access hundreds of e-government services using the SingPass Mobile app, which was launched in 2018.
Allowing parents to use SingPass Mobile to access SLS and every supplementary e-learning portals the schools use will remove the hassle of remembering passwords. Parents can register a SingPass account for their children when they turn 15, the minimum age to set up a national digital identity in Singapore.
2. PROVIDE ENOUGH CAPACITY
Traffic surges could have been anticipated and addressed beforehand.
Last Wednesday was the first HBL day to prepare for a scenario where the Covid-19 outbreak worsens. I was thinking: "Surely SLS would buckle under the weight of 200,000 primary school pupils descending on it." And it did.
There were system glitches - even though schools had told students to stagger their access - with parents reportedly waiting an hour before they could log in.
I only logged into SLS for my daughter to complete her online assignments on Thursday, when primary school pupils returned to school. Even though it wasn't the scheduled e-learning day, we still encountered frequent screen freezing.
3. PUT THE USER FIRST
Content should be accessible on most devices. However, tablets - no matter how prevalent they are - cannot be used for e-learning.
My daughter was not able to record her Chinese reading tasks directly on SLS using our Apple iPad even though the device is powered by the latest operating system. A separate app must be downloaded for the recording, and the audio file uploaded on SLS separately.
Similarly, she could not complete her mathematics online assignment using the iPad. The developer has somehow forgotten to add support for a virtual keyboard.
SLS works on a laptop.
I was happy my 10-year-old had a bit of fun last week after discovering a flaw in SLS using my office laptop. She gleefully said she could play a pre-recorded audio file reading the Chinese passage she was supposed to read, and have the reading recorded at the same time. She submitted the perfect reading as her own work initially and congratulated herself for the nearly perfect score.
I don't intend to buy her a laptop just to do SLS homework; I feel it is too wasteful. Last weekend, however, many parents succumbed to the pressure to prepare for the month-long HBL; they were seen snapping up laptops in consumer electronics stores.
I prefer to use devices I already own - an iPad or a smartphone. Is it wishful thinking to expect SLS developers to build content to work on most devices? Most other online content is built on this principle, and I don't see why SLS should be the exception.
4. EXPAND THE DEFINITION OF LEARNING
Learning should involve some level of teacher-child interaction.
But last Wednesday's HBL was devoid of any such interaction - perhaps because it was for only one day. It was worksheets galore for the four subjects: English, mathematics, science and Chinese.
But going forward, I understand that there will be some form of teacher-student interaction via Google Meet. Earlier this week, my child proudly announced to me that her teacher had created a Gmail account for every student.
Even so, I fear I might have to play the role of school teacher for the next one month - simply because I'm around and within easy reach of my child. I fear it will be hard to draw work-life boundaries too especially when parents' e-mailbox and WhatsApp beep non-stop with school and work messages.
I believe most parents understand that academic progress will suffer with school closure. But the MOE and schools also need to make the necessary adjustments in their expectations.
Cut the children some slack especially when it comes to national examinations and curriculum coverage.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.