An interesting phenomenon has surfaced in 2020 as the world came to a halt during the peak of the Covid pandemic. Even as shops and public amenities are forced to close, the education sector is still thriving despite the odds. Schools in Singapore managed to minimise disruptions to the education of students through online learning. So has private tutors and tuition centres.
Although online learning is not something new, but it has been swiftly adopted by the masses and quickly accepted by students and parents as one of the main avenues to still receive their education despite many questions being raised about the effectiveness of the delivery of lessons.
The big question we have to ask ourselves is whether we will start to see online lessons becoming the new normal or even a direct replacement of face to face lessons, whether is it conducted on a 1 to 1 basis or in a group class setting. As school teachers and tutors are rushing to convert hard copy teaching materials to soft copies that can be disseminated easily via shared drive or cloud platforms, there are definitely some areas of contention that we will have to consider for the next few years or even decades.
As students enjoy the convenience of attending lessons from the comfort of their homes, will they be able to focus on the lessons at hand with many distractions on the computer and electronic devices around them? Will educators be able to capture their attention throughout the lesson? Can student’s online learning fatigue be mitigated or eliminated as they are required to sit for hours in front of the computer screen? Can educators deliver their lessons using the available tools given to them via the different video conferencing platform? Are educators able to track students’ progress as they try to elicit responses from their students as disruptions from background noises and private chatting goes on at the back?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg and there are no easy answers to them. However, I believe that the majority has accepted online lessons as the new normal despite their reservations about it. We will therefore have to find possible workarounds to bridge the loopholes and gaps as school teachers and tutors continue to carry out their duties.
From a Chemistry tutor’s perspective such as myself, I believe that the online learning does lead to a lack of personal interaction between students and their teachers but the simple act of ensuring that the students are showing their faces on video can help teachers to find out if the students are drifting off along the way. One approach that I found helpful as a Chemistry tutor is to ask students questions every few minutes and elicit a response or acknowledgement from them. Even if it is a group class of 8 people, having each and everyone respond do help to bring us closer to a common consensus and understanding. When it comes to a bigger class of 30 to 40 students in a school classroom setting, breaking them up into groups for discussion with their school teachers popping in as and when to check on the progress will help students to get away from the monotony of listening to hours of lectures online.
Setting aside time after the lesson to address any questions in a Q&A setting also help to address some of the common problems that students may face during the Chemistry tuition lessons. For complicated questions, a separate online session can be set up to address them in one go. This will serve to improve the effectiveness of the lessons as fundamental concepts are to be prioritised during the main lessons.
Some subjects like art or home economics, however are more tricky as these require a hands-on approach to learn effectively and cannot be replaced by online lessons. However, for the core subjects such as English, Mother Tongue, Maths and Sciences, online lessons can provide similar levels of effectiveness albeit the additional time that students and teachers have to set aside to close up the gap in the delivery of lessons.
Moving forward, I believe that online lessons will be incorporated into the normal school curriculum with careful planning by the schools in Singapore. For tuition classes, students now have the option to opt for online learning since many parents have accepted it as an alternative arrangement so that the students do not need to rush between their tuition lessons.