Singapore parents voice frustration over learning centres’ arrangements amid suspension of classes

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Some parents in Singapore have voiced frustration over learning centres’ arrangements for students after the suspension of centre-based classes was announced last Tuesday.

The suspension, which aims to reduce the mixing of students from different schools, is among new measures rolled out to ensure safe distancing, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

With classes now put on hold until the end of April, many centres have turned to home-based learning, with lessons mostly delivered online.

The arrangements vary – some send out pre-recorded videos, while others arrange for students to sign in to video conferencing platforms like ClassDojo or Zoom.

But some parents feel shortchanged, and petitions against the centres’ practices have sprung up.

A handful of parents whose children are enrolled in Chinese enrichment centre Berries World told CNA based on their past experience with the centre’s home-based learning resources, the videos could be about 20 minutes long and do not match up to regular classes, which last for about one and a half hours. The centre usually conducts home-based learning in place of classes on public holidays.

Parents said there is not sufficient teacher engagement, which makes such classes less effective.

Some have demanded a refund of their centre fees, while others have called for all classes to be rescheduled to after the suspension.

“I think Berries should give parents the option of deferring lessons and not just throw us home-based learning,” said Jaclyn Neo, whose two children go to the centre.

More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition that criticises the centre.

Berries World’s Assistant Manager for corporate communications Ang Weifeng explained that its alternative arrangements have to be looked at in its totality, and it is constantly improving its resources.

“Pre-school children have shorter attention spans, so if video lessons stretch beyond 15 or 20 minutes, it will be very challenging for the child. The children would have the activity books so they will perform the exercises in tandem. After that, if parents permit, our teachers will do a live face-to-face video call to check on their progress.”

According to Ang, Nursery to Primary 4 students will have two lessons deferred, while the rest of the classes will be delivered through home-based learning.

“To avoid disruption to Primary 5 and Primary 6 students, who will be facing critical examinations ahead, a combination of home-based online learning and live interaction will be conducted,” he said.

Credit vouchers of between SGD50 and SGD65 will also be issued to all students.

Given the short notice to suspend classes, Ang said the centre had to scramble to come up with more engaging materials, such as videos incorporating music and dance for young children, on top of existing home-based learning resources.

He added that home-based learning classes range in duration. Some videos and interaction last more than an hour, but for younger children, videos are segmented into 10 minute to 20 minute portions.

But with about 20,000 students enrolled across its 20 outlets, he said it has been a challenge to respond to parents’ queries promptly.

“We received the news on Tuesday evening. So within a few hours, we had to come up with a holistic plan. We do acknowledge that communication could have been tightened … We’ve personally spoken to some of them, so we hope this helps to bridge the gap,” he added.

For some parents, their initial frustration has quelled after they managed to get clarity about the online classes. “I think they are trying to work on it, so let’s give them some time to figure things out. With feedback, we hope that there will be progress and a reasonable solution,” said Vanessa Poh, whose child attends Berries World.

Another centre, The Learning Lab, has been inundated with calls from anxious parents. Complaints were targetted at lesson times, as well as its online learning interface and resources.

Su Wei Li, who has a daughter in Primary 5 enrolled in The Learning Lab, told CNA that online lessons are scheduled at a different time from regular classes in the centre, making it hard for families as they have to shift their commitments.

He added that his daughter was not offered alternative arrangements even though she could not attend the online classes. He logged on to observe the lesson, which was conducted on the class’ discussion forum.

“The materials consist of videos that students must watch, and quizzes, on top of a messaging box. How this can aid primary school students’ learning is beyond me. There is no video conference nor teacher-recorded video sessions,” he said.

“Parents are not unreasonable, we know that every business is trying to find a solution. But the way in which it has been managed – it’s quite a one-way communication. Now lessons have already commenced without consultation (with) parents.”

More than 350 people have signed a petition online criticising the centre.

In response to CNA’s queries, The Learning Lab said it has received mixed feedback, particularly about its discussion forum sessions.The centre said it chose solutions that students were already familiar with and adapted them to ease the transition to home-based learning. “However, we are listening to our parents, taking their feedback and seeking to incorporate more interactive features such as web conferences,” the centre said.

“This is an unprecedented event from which all of us are learning, and we are committed to do better by our students and parents.”