“GO BIG OR GO HOME.” That hasn’t been an option for a while – because we’re all at home. But for these three people, staying at home isn’t an excuse to do nothing.
Written by Althea / with support from Ngan Lin and Athena
Governments around the world introduced a wide range of measures in response to the Covid-19 outbreak — and Singapore is no exception, leading and role-modelling certain standards of safety and health.
With every health crisis, we expect repercussions. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are definitely consequences to beware of, what with it wreaking havoc in our modern-day world. There have been healthcare-related protests, the spluttering of economies and breaking of non-essential service chains as more measures are stacked back-to-back — all for the safety of their citizens.
For many students, the most notable of such measures includes the closure of all physical schools. Think New York’s closure of city schools until September and the United Kingdom’s closure of all schools till “further notice”.
As for our island state, all schools have shifted to home-based learning (HBL) until May 4th. The physical closure of our classrooms has both upended daily routine and caused a vast alteration of schedule — and even more so for students in my country, myself included — for the rigor of Singapore’s education system and its deeply entrenched academic culture puts the notion of spending more than three days in a row at home during a school term almost unheard of.
While we expected this, the pronouncement of this policy set me into motion. I wanted to investigate its impacts in shaping the educational landscape of Singapore in the long-term – which led me to have a chat with Shayna, J* and Rae and Nic. Through the eyes of these four students at various education levels, and stages in life, we explored the different aspects of home-based learning and how these unexpected circumstances shape the course of their activities.
We start with our secondary school friend for a chat, because they’re the first ones who’ve been hit — from classroom to bedroom. Secondary school students have a mandatory five hours of “online school” to attend. Do you have a routine that helps you to shape each day around your online learning?
“I’ve actually just come off a 14-day LOA for having traveled during the March holidays, so I already have an established (staying-home) routine in place.” Shayna Leng, 16, is a Secondary 4 student who was put under Leave of Absence upon returning from a family visit in Australia — so she’s practically been at home for nearly half a month, and preparing for one more was a lighter task. “I think having a routine is especially important to maintain some semblance of normalcy in my life, even amidst all the changes descending upon us in the outside world.”
Like many other Singaporean students who may find themselves catching snatches of sleep on public transportation, Shayna notes that she’s transitioned to a much healthier sleep schedule and nap position. “I have reallocated the time I would usually spend snoozing while standing up on a public bus to a proper siesta under my fuzzy blanket.”
How has the new policy of HBL impacted you?
“HBL has cut any and all travel time out of my daily routine”, she continues, “For someone who lives an hour away from school, that’s wonderful news.” Of course, not every student shares Shayna’s experience in having to stay at home by decree of law and the Ministry of Education. But for students who live a fair distance away from school, Shayna’s happiness regarding not having to take the long trip to school is not at all especially trying to understand.
However, any time to interact with others outside of immediate family has also been cut. “With my social life basically on hold for the next month, I find myself with a lot more time on my hands. Part of me feels an inescapable guilt for not using this time to sort up my books and write more practice essays, but other parts of me are overjoyed to recover from all the overwork.”
“I have reallocated the time I would usually spend snoozing while standing up on a public bus to a proper siesta under my fuzzy blanket.”
Shayna admits that “HBL has also deprived me of warm hugs and friendly banter,” noting that friends still use social media platforms for loud and boisterous chats chock-full of jokes and friendly jibes.
Rae Fung, an emcee and university student studying Communications, shares similar sentiment on the loss of opportunities for physical meetings and social interaction.
“For myself, my work actually involves a lot of meeting people face to face. Now, I can’t do emceeing, training, or face to face coaching.” Despite discussing an unfavourable circumstance, Rae’s typical bubbly personality spills over into her next gripe, creating a cheerful contrast that reminds us of vibrancy even amidst the downcast Covid-19 situation.
“I can’t go out there and network with people or have good conversations over coffee, which is the best for client closing! However, with the “forced” stay at home situation, it gave me the time to start my IGTV series and podcast.”
Rae’s typical bubbly personality spills over into her next gripe, creating a cheerful contrast that reminds us of vibrancy even amidst the downcast Covid-19 situation.
Despite many students rejoicing due to the extra minutes of sleep, lunch or even scheduled nap-time, our secondary school conversationalists still have the #grindontheirmind due to the upcoming year-end or national examinations. What’s your take on this?
Shayna, whose school is under the 6 year Integrated Programme (IP) and therefore is exempted from O Levels — a final year exam that awaits each Secondary 4 student in Singapore — shares that while she doesn’t have exams, they have weighted assessments, assignments and end-of-year examinations.
This usually checks out. But this year, mid-year examinations have been cancelled, and that brings to the fore a new worry: “With mid-year exams “removed”, I’m more concerned about what they’re going to use to replace that 20% of my grade.”
Like all Singaporean students, Shayna takes mother tongue — higher mother tongue, in fact. Yet, she shares her fair share of concern over scrawling essays: “I’m worried about not getting personalised feedback for my essays.”
“It is unrealistic to type Chinese essays out because the language is constructed upon individual logograms, all of which need detailed, perfect memorisation.”
In a not-so-quip, Shayna adds “I hope I shan’t forget how to write my name.”
While our secondary school students weighed in on “paper” work, our university-from-home conversationalists had something to say about bringing the grind back home. Besides having their uni studies well underway, the two of them often produce content online on TikTok, Spotify and IGTV.
In fact, Rae runs a podcast — starting it in her days at home. The “Fridates with Rae” podcast came as a timely lunch-date listening companion during the #wfh (work from home) period.
“I used to procrastinate (the starting of it) due to the face-to-face jobs I have,” Rae shares, highlighting how HBL may have its benefits in providing time to complete tasks once previously put off due to a lack of time. “Because of the stay-at-home situation, people are going to be on social media more — so for businesses or freelancers who want to market online, more eyes will be on your content!”
Nic Kaufmann, who had to return from Germany to Singapore in light of the Covid-19 situation, shares the same sentiment about keeping up with the grind during his Winter break. “There is definitely a lot of pressure to keep posting content on social media. It doesn’t come from my followers though, they are really supportive and would definitely be ok with me taking a break. The pressure comes from the algorithms which the social media platforms use to distribute their content. Taking extended breaks or posting content which does not perform well heavily impacts your future on social media. Taking a 1 or 2 week break can easily half your average views as the algorithm will rank you lower than before.”
Having studied in Singapore prior to heading overseas for studies, the TikTok star also shares a startling revelation: That more people being at home doesn’t mean that more eyeballs will naturally be on you. “I think in fact they have gone down,” he says of his short videos between minutes or multiple hours to make, depending on the type of TikTok. “The algorithm favours content with high engagement, and since everybody is watching hours of videos every day, the audience gets bored easily and engages less (with) normal content.”
While he’s back on our familiar island, it’s not like he can head out to meet friends, or work on videos with collaborators. “People who live in creator houses or large estates can still produce better content (during this time) as they have more room/people to collaborate with, and therefore are being favored by the algorithm.”
Having been dunked head-first into the HBL ‘style” of living from physical lecture halls or classrooms, we wanted to know what the low-down was on how they personally responded to the “new curriculum”. What’s the difference for you between now and before HBL?
While the efforts that teachers and the Ministry have made in providing resources, availability of consultations and lesson livestreams is commendable, there is no doubt that another test has arrived on students’ doorsteps — the test of self-discipline.
Shayna finds that her role as an individual student is highlighted amidst the new “curriculum.” “I’ve definitely had to learn to become a lot more self-directed and by consequence of that, a lot more productive with my time!” During this period, her perception of time has metamorphosed into an expendable asset.
There’s also this niggling awareness that I am responsible for my own learning, and that there will be no teacher to chase me down or yank me up if I don’t learn the concepts.
“Now, every moment I spend on school is a moment I could have spent on my hobbies, so I focus a lot more intensely on internalising the curriculum. There’s also this niggling awareness that I am responsible for my own learning, and that there will be no teacher to chase me down or yank me up if I don’t learn the concepts — I’ll pay the price in my final exams.”
While Rae, a juggler of many gigs and external assignments, has always been self-driven, she shares that the #wfh period has enabled her to bulk up on productivity gains during this period — by exercising mental strength and energy to get stuff done — online. “With my IGTV and podcast, I actually got DMs and closed a 1-to-1 coaching on public speaking!”
For Nic, not only has the environment changed from German skylines to Singapore skyscrapers, but so has his body clock. “Timezone (differences) don’t make it easy to have long chats with them”, he says of friends in Germany. “For now, I am enjoying my time with my family, who I don’t see so often due to the distance.”
“Taking extended breaks or posting content which does not perform well heavily impacts your future on social media. Taking a 1 or 2 week break can easily half your average views as the algorithm will rank you lower than before.”
To conclude our carpeCHAT with the students, we asked them to share their thoughts on the prompt: How do you feel schools can better support students during HBL?
“One thing my chemistry teacher has done that really helped to reassure me – he’s made himself available for a time slot each day for an optional consultation. If you need help, you just log on and he’s there”, Shayna shares. Her school is largely academically-oriented and the availability of teachers provides a reassuring digital presence.
“Of course there are a few kinks that still need to be ironed out in the software, but that can’t be helped.”
A special thank you to Rae, Nic and Shayna.
[A NOTE FROM teamCARPE’S ALTHEA LIM]: While interviewing these students, of course, does not grant me enough testament to claim their reactions as representative of the national school population, I am incredibly heartened by their drive, discipline, and motivation to strive for themselves. As a writer for current affairs, I hope that the audience reading this does not use the two students to generalise the current educational landscape. It is imperative to note that while a large demographic of students will have personal infrastructure, coupled with a stable environment, available to them, there also exists a demographic of students who simply are not as fortunate and do not have the same resources as most. There are also students from vulnerable backgrounds in unstable, and even abusive environments. So while discussing approbations and their relevant contexts and repercussions is deeply important, I’d like to remind you, to perceive and see beyond the typical; because even though a vast trove of benefits may exist because of HBL, an equally vast trove of potentially irreversible, often disproportionate harms, exist for the most vulnerable — The abused, the underprivileged, and the destitute. (Note that this is not an exhaustive list.) Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with a supportive, healthy, home environment. If you know anyone in need of help in this trying period, do not be afraid to lend a hand. And if you need help, I want you to know that you are not alone, there are people who will stand behind you, and that help does exist. – With love and kindness, Althea Lim.
Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE): 1800-777-5555
PAVE: 6555 0390
TRANS Family Services: TRANS FSC (Bedok) 6449 0762, TRANS FSC (Bukit Timah) 6466 2287, TRANS SAFE Centre 6449 9088, TRANS FOCUS Centre 6467 8191
Family Transformation and Protection Unit, Family Court: 6435 5077
Child Protection and Welfare Helpline 1800-777 000
Singapore Action Group of Elders (SAGE): 180-555-5555
The Law Society of Singapore: 6536 0650