SINGAPORE: School will be suspended for about a month from next Wednesday (Apr 8) as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Friday stricter measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Students across all levels, from primary school to universities, including those in special education schools, will shift to full home-based learning until May 4, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said in a joint press release.

All pre-schools, kindergartens and student care centres will also be closed, but will provide limited services for children of parents who have to work and cannot find caregivers.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that everyone should try to stay home but schools will remain open for parents who are unable to stay home to look after their children. These include parents in essential services, such as healthcare workers, and those from vulnerable families.

“We do expect a fair number of children from more vulnerable families having to come to school, so I think (we can) take this opportunity, mobilise resources we have, let’s see what we can do to especially help this group of children,” he said.

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Classes are currently set to resume on May 5, but MOE and MSF will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation to assess if these measures need to be prolonged.

School-based mid-year examinations will be cancelled, said MOE. 

National examinations will proceed as planned and with the necessary precautionary measures in place. These include the mid-year GCE O- and A-Level Mother Tongue Language examinations in June, year-end examinations and Primary School Leaving Examinations.

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Mr Ong said that while he had received many requests from parents to close schools earlier, it is now time to do so and “for the right reasons”.

“Because we are implementing a national circuit breaker policy and schools are an important part of it. It will help us move towards a position where we can enhance safe distancing, cut down on social interactions significantly and reduce transmissions,” he said.

TRIAL TO PREPARE SCHOOLS FOR HOME-BASED LEARNING

Schools had tried out home-based learning in a staggered fashion this week, which has prepared students and teachers for the coming full implementation, the ministries added.

That process helped to solve many teething problems, said Mr Ong. 

MOE loaned out nearly 4,000 digital devices to those who did not have them, and parents who had to work could still send their children to school, where they have proper supervision and safe distancing, he said. 

After the trial, MOE is also confident that the curriculum can be covered and there is no need to “claw back” from the June holidays, he said.

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Schools will continue to provide instructions and support for students to access a range of both online and hard copy home-based learning materials, so that learning continues uninterrupted. 

Students can rely on the ongoing support of their teachers and other school personnel who will continue to work from home or from school, said authorities.

Mr Ong stressed that learning from home can be similar to going to school, and teachers will log on and take attendance online. 

“You can even have a flag-raising ceremony and say the pledge, then go through the assignments” he said.

INSTITUTES OF HIGHER LEARNING

In recent months, institutes of higher learning have moved to online learning and stepped up safe distancing measures on their campuses.  

Autonomous universities will go “100 per cent online” including for exams, said Mr Ong, adding that some universities have decided to defer credits to take the pressure off their students.

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For new students starting at polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education soon, they will need to go to campus to get themselves registered for online learning. They are to go to school in small groups, he said.

Having a lot of online learning is “far from ideal”, but he encouraged students to use the time at home to read widely and explore areas they are interested in.

“Try to learn outside of the syllabus, read widely … find what subjects, what areas you’re passionate about,” he said. “So, stay safe, stay home, stay curious.”

PRE-SCHOOLS TO SERVE PARENTS IN ESSENTIAL SERVICES

Pre-schools will stay open only to serve parents in essential services, and who cannot find alternative caregivers for their children, said authorities.

Parents should try to keep their children at home during this period, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.

Priority will be given to healthcare workers, children of low-wage or daily wage workers, as well as children from vulnerable families with no support. Parents should contact their children’s schools for help, he said.

Many pre-schools have home-based learning resources to support parents and the Early Childhood Development Agency is consolidating them to a single website, he said, adding that the link will be shared next week.

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The minimum attendance requirements for pre-school and student care subsidies will also be waived in April.

“All subsidies for pre-school and student care will continue to be disbursed during this period,” said Mr Lee. 

Private education institutions should move to home-based learning or suspend classes, said authorities. ​​​​​​​

STRICTER MEASURES

Mr Lee announced earlier on Friday that workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, will close from next Tuesday. He urged everyone to stay at home as much as possible.  

People should go out only to do essential things such as to buy food or to exercise at the park, while keeping a safe distance from others, he said.

READ: How F&B outlets, markets and food suppliers will operate amid COVID-19 ‘circuit breaker’ measures

These measures are being rolled out after more local cases of COVID-19 were detected in Singapore last week, with about half of the cases unlinked.

Globally, the number of coronavirus cases has soared above 1 million and reported deaths have exceeded 50,000. 

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