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Some workers, students all set to return to offices and schools

Safeguards being put in place as circuit breaker ends, but most will continue to work from home

Besides the usual textbooks and stationery, Mr Melvyn Goh has packed a few more items in his daughter’s school bag – an extra face mask and an antibacterial facial spray.

His 11-year-old daughter Emma, who is in Primary 6, is returning to school today, and he wants to take the necessary precautions.

“She is mature enough to know how to take care of herself, but it is good to have these things as backup,” said the video producer.

Mr Goh, 44, will be resuming work in the office today as well, after being forced to stop work for the past two months. He needs to access specialised video-editing equipment in the office.

Even though he shares the space with only one other colleague, they will ensure safe distancing measures are in place. Their desks will be placed farther apart from each other, and they will stagger their work timings, he said.

Mr Goh and his daughter are among those who are returning to work and school after the end of the circuit breaker period yesterday.

Schools reopen today, but daily classes on school premises will be held only for the graduating cohorts of Primary 6 and Secondary 4 and 5, who will wear masks while attending lessons.

All other students will alternate weekly between home-based learning and lessons in school.

For workers, working from home must remain the default mode of work. They can return to their workplaces only if necessary – for example, to use equipment inaccessible from home, or to fulfil legal requirements.

While in the office, workers must adhere to safe management measures such as temperature screenings, practising good personal hygiene and wearing masks at all times, except during activities that require them to be removed.

An employee of a global bank, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lim, has been back at work in the office since last week. Her boss helped her to get an exemption to return to the office early as she did not have appropriate work-from-home equipment.

“We all have to wear masks. I sit in my own space, but there are marked-out areas in meeting rooms and the pantry where you can’t sit,” she said.

Her company provides free meals so employees do not have to go out, and cleaners are there at least three times a day to disinfect the place.

With more people expected to return to their workplaces today, Ms Lim said she is worried as public transport will become more crowded. But the measures put in place by her employer are enough to make her feel safe at work, she said.

Over at escalator and elevator company Kone, field technicians will return to the office from today to retrieve components for repair services. These workers have been split into two teams that cannot mix, either at work or socially.

Meanwhile, all of the firm’s other employees who have been working from home will continue to do so.

Real estate consultancy Cushman & Wakefield will reopen its offices at Samsung Hub and Viva Business Park next Monday, after ensuring they are sanitised and safety protocols are firmly in place.

Managing a community recovery facility and several dormitories with Covid-19 cases here has made the firm even more cautious, said Mr Ho Chee Kit, 48, who chairs its Return To Office Taskforce.

Safe distancing and directional signs have been put up, and seats near common walkways have been blocked off. Only up to a quarter of the staff will return to each office, and employees are urged to go home once their work is done.

For Ms Karen Lai, juggling three children while working from home has not been easy. Being at home has been tough on her daughter with special needs, and returning to school will mean fewer meltdowns.

“I am certain the schools are taking every precaution, so I am not worried. However, I plan to drive my kids to and from school so they can avoid taking public transport,” said Ms Lai, who is in her 40s.

Now is a good time to reopen schools, says Ong Ye Kung

Few new community cases, closure impact on students among considerations as Term 3 starts.

Considering it could be a year or more before a vaccine for Covid-19 is found and since there are few new cases of infection in the community, now is a good time to reopen schools, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

Extended closure of schools would have a tremendous impact on children not just in academic terms, but also emotionally and socially, he added.

“We must remember, education is really not just about taking exams or getting good grades,” said Mr Ong.

“It is (also) about the character and socio-emotional development. And we cannot deprive a whole generation of that experience.”

The Ministry of Education (MOE) will be reviewing ways to blend classroom and digital learning to “harness the best of both worlds in a modern education system”, he added.

Self-directed learning cannot fully substitute in-class learning, but it can give children the time and space to explore and study at their own pace, Mr Ong noted.

It also allows them the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity and go beyond the curriculum.

Mr Ong was speaking to reporters during a visit to Xingnan Primary School in Jurong West yesterday, as schools across Singapore opened their doors to welcome back some 250,000 students from selected cohorts.

“(We will) come back to school progressively, with precautions, and make things as safe as we can.”

During his visit, Mr Ong spoke to pupils arriving at school in the morning and joined a class for morning assembly, which was held in the classrooms.

Each cohort took its own route to get to its classroom. The pupils also had designated toilets.

Mr Ong also visited a Primary 6 class’ physical education lesson, which was conducted in the school hall by a teacher wearing a face shield and using a microphone.

Pupils were taught how to remove their masks and place them into resealable bags to be stored and worn again after the lesson. Mr Ong later joined a group of Primary 5 pupils for recess.

Across schools, daily face-to-face classes will be conducted only for the graduating cohorts of Primary 6 and Secondary 4 and 5.

Those in Primary 4 and 5 and Secondary 1 and 2 were also at school yesterday, but they will rotate weekly – with students from the remaining batches – between home-based learning and having lessons in class.

Up to 50 per cent of students in junior colleges and Millennia Institute (MI) returned to their schools as well, with priority given to graduating students.

The attendance rate for the selected cohorts yesterday was 97.6 per cent for primary schools, 97.7 per cent for secondary schools and 98.4 per cent for the JCs and MI, which MOE said is “healthy”.

All schools will continue with tightened safety measures, such as students staying in class groupings, fixed exam-style seating and appropriate distancing.

Staggered recess times and dismissals, daily temperature taking and wipe-down routines will continue, with new rules such as having teachers and students wear face masks or face shields except when eating and exercising.

Primary 6 pupil Sophia Wu, 11, said she is not used to donning a mask most of the time.

“It is suffocating because you can’t really breathe well and it makes you warmer,” she said, but she added that she and her classmates have been able to cope with the safety measures so far.

Xingnan Primary School principal Charles Chan said the school is trying to find ways to motivate pupils to adhere to the measures.

For example, it has extra masks from its school uniform vendor and could allow the children to decorate these themselves.

Said Mr Chan: “If they personalise their masks, put buttons or ribbons or perhaps their names, they will own the masks and perhaps they will want to use them more – a new accessory for them that will be part of life and the ‘new normal’.”

Source – The Straits Times

Why Music Matters: Children create music video by coming together online

https://www.straitstimes.com/multimedia/why-music-matters-children-create-music-video-by-coming-together-online

SINGAPORE – Fifteen young musicians worked together to create a music video during Singapore’s circuit breaker period, despite not being able to meet each other.

The group of young musicians, together with Singaporean composer Kahchun Wong, recorded a music video for the song Rainbow in Us. The entire process was done online over two weeks.

The song was written by the children from Child at Street 11 with the help of singer-songwriter JJ Ong and Rosemarie Somaiah from the Asian Storytelling Network.

Child at Street 11 is a charity and pre-school for children from diverse and under-resourced backgrounds.

“In the three years I have spent with the children, the biggest lesson for me is that they have the ability to dream. They simply need adults to believe in them.” said Wong.

He hopes the video will show Singapore’s strength as a nation as well as let young people know that they hold the key to shaping the country’s future.

Watch this sixth episode of Why Music Matters – a digital series on Project Infinitude set up by Wong – for a glimpse of the children’s music-making journey.

It airs every Thursday on The Straits Times’ website and social media channels.

Source – The Straits Times

97% attendance for those rostered to return to class in Singapore

Singapore ended the Covid-19 circuit breaker last Monday. The Sunday Times looks at how schools and workplaces coped in the first week of the gradual reopening and the impact on public transport.

Schools in Singapore, from primary to junior college levels, experienced no drop in attendance as they reopened last Tuesday.

Average attendance for the week was about 97 per cent among students who were rostered to return, which the Education Ministry said is “similar to the pre-Covid-19 rate”.

Still, it was not business as usual, with several teething issues involving the measures to stem any spread of the coronavirus.

Students were not used to wearing masks for a prolonged period of time, the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) director of schools Liew Wei Li told The Sunday Times.

Teachers had to get used to using face shields or masks when in class, and juggle between face-to-face classes and teaching students at home virtually.

Schools also had to manage congestion at entry points during arrival and dismissal times.

Since the circuit breaker was eased on Tuesday, graduating cohorts of Primary 6 and Secondary 4 and 5 have to go to school.

The rest will rotate weekly: learning in school one week and learning at home the next. Those in Primary 4 and 5, and in lower secondary returned last week.

Ms Liew said schools have set aside time to familiarise students with the new routines and safety measures, such as keeping a safe distance during playtime.

“The weekly rotation schedule… gives schools the opportunity to adjust, take in feedback from parents and students, and find new ways to ease students into the arrangements,” she added.

Up to 50 per cent of students in junior colleges and the Millennia Institute also returned, with priority given to graduating students.

At the pre-school level, Kindergarten 1 and 2 children were allowed to resume classes. Those in Nursery 1 and 2 may go back from tomorrow.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has observed – from visits to pre-schools – that children were able to adhere to the new rules. Most kept their masks on through the day, removing them only during meal and nap times. They washed their hands correctly and frequently and keep a safe distance from their friends, a spokesman said.

Pre-school operators The Sunday Times spoke to said reopening centres by age group is helping children settle into their new routines.

At PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots, about 90 per cent of Kindergarten 1 and 2 kids had returned since Tuesday.

Ms Marini Khamis, senior director of PCF’s pre-school management division, said children tend to “be more open to following practices such as wearing a mask when they see their teachers and friends doing the same”.

Ms Thian Ai Ling, general manager of NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool, said the average attendance across centres was about 85 per cent for Kindergarten 1 and 2 children in the past week.

To help children ease back into routines, an online class was conducted last Monday, where they could talk to their teachers and friends, and be guided on how to wear masks.

“At times, some children could get excited and (get) a little closer to their friends in school… We will continue to reinforce safe practices in children, and engage the parents and partner them in keeping our children and pre-school environment safe,” Ms Thian added.

Parents welcomed the return of school and said the transition was manageable.

Mr Abdillah Hashim, 41, who works in an engineering consulting firm, has a daughter and son in kindergarten and nursery at the same centre.

His son was allowed to go back on Tuesday as he is enrolled in an early intervention programme.

Mr Abdillah said: “The teacher informed me that my kids did not have issues wearing the face mask for the whole day. But my daughter said they have to eat alone now, instead of sitting with their friends.”

Source – The Straits Times

S’pore schools to open June 2

SINGAPORE – Schools will reopen on June 2, but daily classes on school premises will be held only for the graduating cohorts of students in Primary 6, Secondary 4 and 5, who will wear masks or face shields while attending their lessons.

All other students will alternate weekly between home-based learning and classes in school. All student care centres will also open from June 2.

For junior college and Millennia Institute students, half the student body has been given the go-ahead to be back in school at any one time from June 2, with their teachers ensuring that all students, especially the graduating cohorts, have more than adequate face-to-face time with them.

Physical education (PE) lessons will resume, but co-curricular activities (CCAs) will continue to be suspended.

During PE lessons, students and PE teachers will not be required to wear masks when engaged in strenuous physical activities. Ministry of Education (MOE) centres will open for students sitting for national examinations, including language papers.

The MOE, which announced this on Tuesday (May 19), said that when there is a further easing of measures against the coronavirus, possibly in a few weeks’ time, all students will start attending school every day.

All schools will continue with the safety measures that have been further tightened since late January, such as students staying in class groupings, and using fixed exam-style seating and appropriate distancing. Staggered recess times and dismissals, daily temperature-taking and wipe-down routines will continue. Teachers, like their students, will also be subject to the new measure of wearing masks or face shields.

Polytechnic students will continue attending lectures and tutorials online, while Institute of Technical Education students will rotate weekly between online and on-campus lessons. They will return primarily for practical and lab sessions.

Undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Technology and Singapore University of Technology and Design will continue having lectures and tutorials online. Students at the other four autonomous universities are having their vacation.

Speaking at the multi-ministry task force briefing, Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said that despite strict safety measures being in place, some parents will be worried.

But he said: “All over the world, countries are opening schools in phases, carefully because Covid-19 will be with us for some time. We must be able to regain our lives, while taking all necessary precautions.”

He noted that when the coronavirus took hold early in the year, many countries closed schools, although for some of them, the school year had recently started.

“This affected some students badly and there is some concern over the adverse impact on students who are out of school for several months,” he said, adding that even when his ministry decided to close schools from April 8, it did not take the decision lightly.

Source – The Straits Times