Singapore schools staying nimble as COVID surges

As Omicron surges in Singapore, we hear from Compassvale Primary School teacher Sharon Koh about how schools on the island nation are coping and what measures they are undertaking to keep calm and carry on. Compassvale School is part of the Global Schools Partnership Project (GSPP), a collaboration between Foundation and the Southeast Asia Centre for Pacific Excellence. In 2018, Sharon visited New Zealand with a group of Singaporean teachers through GSPP programme and spent time at Henley School in Nelson. The purpose of the Global School Partnerships Project is to increase students’ global competency through establishing partnerships between schools in New Zealand and schools in Singapore.
Sharon showing a laptop to her class

Sharon: "Amidst all this, we are trying our very best to stay in touch and keep our Singapore - New Zealand connection alive."

It has been two years into this ongoing pandemic and, as a nation, we are still staying nimble with updated approaches based on new scientific knowledge about the virus and learning to adapt. We are trying our best to strike a balance between preserving the healthcare capacity and at the same time allowing people to live life as normally as possible.

The Ministry of Education (Singapore) is monitoring closely the disruptions to schooling caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and has taken steps to ensure that students' learning and development are not unduly compromised. We do so by keeping our schools open as far as possible, and by ensuring that learning can still take place as effectively as possible even under Home-Based Learning (HBL) conditions.

After each period of HBL, we progressively bring students back to school for face-to-face lessons to ensure physical schooling resumes in a safe manner. This is in line with our approach to minimise prolonged HBL, where possible, for the socio-emotional well-being of students.

To allow more time for curriculum recovery due to disruptions brought about by COVID-19, the year-end examinations for Primary 3 and 4 students in 2021 were cancelled. Schools drew on information from a range of school-based assessments that were conducted throughout the year to report students' learning progress.

The year-end examinations for Primary 5 students were carried out under strict safe-management measures, as it allowed our students and parents to obtain a better understanding of students' learning progress in relation to the new Achievement Level (AL) scoring system, prior to taking the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) for this year, 2022.

We did not see a significant negative impact on students' learning as a result of the pandemic. The overall performance of our students in the 2020 and 2021 national examinations were comparable to that of previous years, affirming that there were no major learning losses.

Amid these challenges, the crisis presented us opportunities to rethink pedagogy and to emerge stronger. Both teachers and students have learnt and become more skillful in harnessing the strengths of blended learning to develop future-ready skills.

Many of our students have also become more self-directed and independent in their learning, and more resilient to disruptions. These traits will stand them in good stead when confronted with future challenges in life and career.

There was some impact on learning with the loss of conventional in-person schooling, especially the loss of co-curricular activities and other informal interpersonal interactions. That is why we try to resume those activities where we can. We will continue to take steps to improve these issues with the help of technology, the commitment of our teachers and the support of our parents.

Through the Global Schools Partnership Project, Sharon's Compassvale classes have connected with Henley School students in Nelson

Since early 2020, we have staggered the students’ break and dismissal timings and suspended mass whole school assemblies. We also practice safe distancing and management measures. All students and staff are masked at all times unless they are eating/drinking or doing some vigorous activities during their Physical Education lessons.

From 27 December 2021, Singapore has extended the national vaccination programme to cover over 300,000 children aged 5 to 11, starting with the older children. The extension of the vaccination programme to children is part of the larger national efforts to keep our children, their families and the wider community safe.

Despite all this, we are trying our very best to stay in touch and keep our Singapore - New Zealand connection alive. 

For our school’s 22nd Annual Prize-Giving Ceremony on 19 November 2020, we had the honour of having Mr. Peter Kemp, Deputy High Commissioner from the New Zealand High Commission in Singapore to grace the event as our Guest-of-Honour. Mr. Kemp presented our inaugural TLC award (our pinnacle award for our students - Thinker, Leader and Champion award) to our P6 winner as well as the award for our top student from the 2019 cohort.

For our National Day Celebrations for the past two years, we have invited our friends from Henley School (Nelson, New Zealand) to join us in the observance ceremony. John Armstrong, the Principal of Henley School, is a member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Champions Programme.

On 8 August 2021, our friends joined our celebration and participated actively in a mass workout with our Compassvalites. They had fun dancing along to our 2021 National Day Theme song. We also had an online session via Zoom where the students had the opportunity to check in with one another and find out more about each country’s education systems and how each was coping with the pandemic.

A note from the author:

While Singapore has a national approach for schools and receives much guidance as well as support from Ministry of Education’s HQ, some of my views here are specific to my school as implementation on the ground is dependent on the individual school contexts.