When home-based learning was rolled out nationwide at the peak of the pandemic, Serangoon Garden Secondary School (SGSS) found itself well placed to ride out the storm. Getting teachers to teach through online platforms such as Zoom and Google Classroom went without a hitch, with them having had experience in using these tools before. Meeting the learning needs of every student, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, was also a top priority for the school. SingTeach talks to Mdm Valerie Goh, principal of SGSS, on how well prepared the school was to tackle the disruption head on.
The shift from physical classrooms to online learning has been a seamless one for Serangoon Garden Secondary School (SGSS). As with many other schools in Singapore, teachers and students have already been using the Student Learning Space (SLS) for the past two years.
School principal Mdm Valerie Goh says: “At the beginning of this year, teachers and students began using Google Classroom alongside SLS. Teachers found Google Classroom to be more efficient at collating the students’ work and submissions.”
She also describes the positive experiences the Lead Teacher, Ms Aw Kah, and Assistant Year Head, Ms Chew Kai Qing, had while using Google Meet and Zoom to teach and pre-record lessons as they found them to be easy to use and effective. These web services, Valerie says, presented opportunities to reach out to students who might have missed out on lessons or have a greater need for reinforcement for learning.
With a desire to share their experiences and further strengthen the other teachers’ technical knowledge, both of them spearheaded the bite-sized training sessions on using Google Classroom and Zoom. Valerie adds that she is heartened by the teachers’ collaborative efforts and enthusiasm in upskilling themselves even before the pandemic started.
“By the time home-based learning (HBL) and school closures were enforced, most of the teachers were equipped with the basic know-hows of using these technology tools. The immediate transference of skills, from learning straight to practical use, raises the collective efficacy of all staff and has made the transition process much smoother,” she shares.
Strengthening the Parent–Teacher Relationship
Valerie makes an interesting observation that the Circuit Breaker period has given the opportunity for parents to sit in during their child’s Zoom sessions and be an active participant in the child’s learning journey. To better support those who are learning at home, it is imperative for the school to maintain and strengthen the parent-teacher relationship.
“To keep the communication lines open, we continue to organize zoom Parent-Teacher Meetings where parents are able to come onboard and share their concerns about learning, exams and the curriculum. We also leverage on our social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, to keep us connected,” she shares.
Seeing the crisis as an opportunity to further build on the parent-teacher partnership, she and her team of teachers ran two online parenting workshops during the year that focused on cyber wellness and handling anxiety in youths – issues that are particularly relevant.
“The online sessions have been warmly received by the parents who find them to be convenient and useful in guiding their children,” she says. “The pandemic has actually made us look for creative ways in how teachers and parents can continuously work on a common goal of supporting the students’ learning.”
Narrowing the Digital Divide
The pandemic has brought into focus the digital divide among students, especially for those without computer and/or Internet access, a concern not lost on Valerie.
She recalls how the school’s teacher assistants, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) associates and HOD for ICT sprang into action to procure new 4G mobile routers as well as approximately 80 laptops for students who require additional support.
Valerie adds that she is much encouraged by the swift actions of the team of teachers in ensuring that student learning can continue as normal and undisrupted as possible.
The “Hope@SGSS” Programme for High Needs Students
The school stepped up its efforts, and opened up its classrooms and laboratories to high needs students whose homes were not conducive for HBL. The “Hope@ SGSS” programme was set-up to ensure a holistic learning experience for the 30 to 35 students who were coming back to school during this period.
“These high needs students are generally those who are on the financial assistance scheme (FAS),” she shares. “We used a targeted approach to identify those who would need this additional support during Circuit Breaker. First, we looked at FAS students who live in 1- and 2-room flats, and then slowly widened the pool to 3-room flats. Inputs from form teachers were also taken into consideration before the list of eligible students was finalized.”
Apart from the usual classroom time, various types of activities were curated specifically for them, such as recreational sports and enrichment activities like balloon sculpting and handicraft activities. The school also worked with The RICE Company, a non-profit organization that seeks to uplift youths through the arts, to provide art, music and dance lessons that the students could participate in after school hours.
“It is important for us that we do not stigmatize those who are returning to school. Our focus goes beyond academic learning as we want them to have a meaningful experience during the HBL period,” Valerie emphasizes.
Post-Circuit Breaker, to sustain the support for at-risk students, the Hope@SGSS programme has evolved into a structured programme called “Project Five Degrees”. The school is partnering with the National University of Singapore (NUS) Students’ Community Service Club and Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) Community Service Club to tutor and mentor at-risk students.
Under this programme, these students are allowed to leave the classroom during curriculum time and have a one-to-one Zoom session with the NUS student tutors in the school library. On weekends, they can come back to school and be personally tutored and mentored by the NYP tutors, some of whom are SGSS alumni.
“The name of the project reflects our hope for them – if their mindset towards learning shifts even by a small five degrees, their life trajectory can change by leaps and bounds. We hope that we can play a small part in possibly making a huge positive change in their future,” Valerie says.
“It is important for us that we do not stigmatize those who are returning to school. Our focus went beyond academic learning as we want them to have a meaningful experience during the HBL period.”
– Mdm Valerie Goh emphasizes on the importance of not stigmatizing students who were returning to school during Circuit Breaker
Education in the New Normal
Even though Circuit Breaker has ended, HBL is set to become a regular feature in the local education system. “At SGSS, HBL and Zoom lessons are still on-going, albeit at a reduced frequency,” Valerie comments.
She describes how some remedial classes, which are usually held after school hours, have been moved online. She adds that teachers now find it more convenient to post and curate subject notes on Google Classroom so that students can extract them when required. Not only that, the school is also using a blended learning approach to reach out to students who are absent from schools for a prolonged period of time.
“The affordance of technology has critically reshaped the way we conceive of learning as well as student learning experiences in schools. SGSS is exploring the different ways on how to make online learning complement classroom teaching. I believe that we must always be ready to equip our students and teachers with the right skills to adapt to the new normal,” Valerie says with much conviction.