SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Education (MOE) has loaned out about 3,300 devices, including tablets and laptops, to students since Friday, following the announcement of full home-based learning, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday (Apr 6).
Responding to a parliamentary question about ensuring that all students have computer and Internet access for full home-based learning, Mr Ong noted that over 200 dongles have also been loaned out to students who do not have Internet access at home.
Low-income families can also apply for subsidised computers and free broadband through the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) NEU PC Plus programme, he said.
According to a 2018 IMDA survey, 98 per cent of households with school-going children have access to a computer, and almost 100 per cent have home Internet and broadband connection.
“But the member is rightfully concerned about the availability of devices and internet access, and this has been an issue MOE has been very preoccupied about ever since we were planning on home-based learning,” said Mr Ong.
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MOE expects more students and parents to come forward on Monday and Tuesday, before the first day of full-home based learning on Wednesday, and is prepared to loan out more devices and dongles if needed, he noted.
“Which is why we are starting our home-based learning on Wednesday, and not immediately, one day later than the companies because we need to get this properly done,” he said, thanking corporate sponsors who provided free dongles and Internet subscriptions to students.
“In addition, our schools can provide students with safe spaces within the school premises so that they can come to school to use computers and the internet in school doing their home-based learning with supervision from the teachers.”
FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS IN NEED
Responding to another parliamentary question, Mr Ong also noted that the School Meals programme provides subsidies for meals purchased from the school canteen. This means students on the School Meals programme will not be able to benefit from the programme if they are not in school.
To continue assisting students on MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme and the School Meals programme, schools will reach out to these students “to see who still needs to come to school because they don’t have the support at home to do home-based learning”.
These students will be registered and allowed to continue coming to school throughout the “circuit breaker period”.
The education ministry will also work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to provide financial and other support for these families through community partners such as the Social Service Offices.
“This is what we do currently for low income households facing financial difficulty throughout the year, but the Social Service Offices will do more to help needy families access financial assistance schemes rolled out as part of COVID-19 support measures,” said Mr Ong.
Other community partners and donors are coming forward to support these students through vouchers, including food vouchers to help students with their meals, he added.
“The CDCs (Community Development Councils) are starting this and once the details are worked out they will announce the new measures.
There is “no doubt” that students from the lower income group will be “the most adversely affected” when schools have to close and move to full home-based learning, Mr Ong said.
“And that is why we are moving to full home-based learning only now and not earlier because we do know it creates a lot of disruptions to people’s lives, and children from lower income families, from vulnerable families are most affected.
“But we are doing it now in support of the circuit breaker measures that will come into force this week.”