The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the resolve and spirit of staff, students, and parents alike. When the government first announced the implementation of Full Home-Based Learning, a tangible wave of shock rippled through the school population. For many of our teachers, the challenge ahead seemed insurmountable. While teachers were already used to integrating ICT into the classroom, the thought of having to move entire curriculums online was a drastic shift in their teaching practice. In the days leading up to Full HBL, teachers hurriedly attempted creating online lesson packages, while at the same time attending crash courses on how to use Google Meet and Zoom, and also trying out new tools for lessons. Department meetings were held to figure out just how online teaching could be carried out without compromising students’ learning. Colleagues did their best to support each other and shared what they knew – younger, more tech-savvy teachers suddenly found themselves in the unexpected situation of coaching their more experienced colleagues in the art of online teaching.
While we expected online lessons to be difficult, nobody anticipated just how different they would be. Videoconferencing simply cannot compare to face-to-face interaction for full-class instruction; that said, being able to instantly silence a class of chatty students was a welcome superpower, allowing for a more structured sharing of ideas. Teachers with children of their own had to juggle between their own lessons and their children’s assignments, though the increased time together at home proved to be a blessing in disguise, offering more opportunities for family bonding.
Now, in the midst of safe reopening, we have had to adjust yet again to a new normal, with the adoption of various safe distancing measures. Morning Assembly is held in the classroom, with videoconferencing broadcasts of the National Anthem, Pledge, and School Song. Lessons do not begin until every student and teacher has taken their temperature, and students are now used to the routine of wiping down their desks at the start and end of the school day. All staff and students are required to have their masks on at all times, except when eating. Students have fixed seating arrangements in class, canteen, and café, and staggered recess and dismissal times have been issued to avoid unnecessary crowding. The cleaning staff have also been meticulous in disinfecting the school periodically.
Adjusting to these measures has not been easy. With the face mask on, the heat in the classrooms becomes almost unbearable, and teachers often emerge from classrooms drenched in sweat. It is difficult to make out what students are saying through their masks, and we often have to ask them to repeat themselves during class discussions. PE lessons have been completely restructured – as most games and sports are out of the question, students do static individual exercises during PE, standing a careful 1 metre apart from each other. Above all, the upcoming national examinations loom over our graduating students, who have plunged into their revision with renewed fervour, attempting to catch up on lost time.
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has taken many things from us – the safety and structure of a regular school routine, the ease we used to have in interacting with those around us, and the opportunities to gather as a full school. It has pushed us to our limits, and forced us to confront the fact that what we are accustomed to is now a thing of the past. Still, it is in such times of turmoil that we witness our greatest triumphs. As a school, and indeed as a nation, it is safe to say that we have made great progress in familiarising ourselves with the use of educational technology.
COVID-19 and its challenges have also unearthed the unwavering creativity, drive, and compassion of our staff and students. For example, when the Student Council realised that the canteen vendors would not receive income during the CB period, they took it upon themselves to organise a fundraiser to purchase food vouchers to tide the vendors over. In Phase 2, student leaders have risen to the occasion and initiated eCCA sessions, ensuring that their peers will not be deprived of the joy and enrichment that comes from CCA, despite not being able to meet in person.
Ultimately, it has also given us a chance to put our school values into action – to be Present with our loved ones; to live with Simplicity and be thankful for what we have; to have Love of Work despite the difficulties of HBL; and to live In the Way of Mary, by being selfless and generous towards those in need. Through it all, it is Family Spirit that undergirds the actions of our staff and Marists – an unspoken understanding that we will overcome this challenge together.