Since the coronavirus pandemic struck, my household has become overwhelmingly crowded with my befuddled family members tearing their hair out, having been displaced from our school, work and our normal routines.
As part of the safe-distancing measure, MOE has made home-based learning mandatory from April 8 to May 4. Even at the end of the Circuit Breaker, students of non-graduating cohort will still alternate between HBL and school.
The sudden announcement by MOE on the implementation of Remote Learning, also known as Home-based Learning, HBL has turned our homes into virtual learning environments almost overnight. On one hand, the limitless reach of home-based learning allows students to have a more flexible schedule for their learning, but the variability of the learning environment has laid bare many issues such as the lack of interaction between students and teachers as well as the distraction students face at home, hence it does seem that classroom learning is more beneficial than home-based learning.
What are the benefits of classroom learning?
A recent study by Harvard University reaffirms the benefits of classroom learning, mainly because it produces better educational outcomes as students learn more in classrooms that employ active-learning strategies. Home based learning, compared to classroom learning primarily lacks the physical interaction and spontaneity.
Communication plays a vital role in education. It allows the sharing of information, ideas and thoughts which contribute to the students learning. It also allows teachers to clarify information immediately, build positive relationships with students and make lessons more fun and engaging as compared to the perfectly lined up facts on computer screens. Not all schools have ‘live’ lessons, some schools direct students to courses or assignments uploaded at the Student Learning Space, otherwise known as SSL. For this form of home-based learning, students who need any clarification on certain subjects would have to wait for teachers to reply via emails or text which not only takes time, students may not understand when there is a lack of verbal explanation. In such scenarios, students who have access to online tuition will clearly stand advantage over their peers. Many tutors have given feedback that they been roped in by parents to facilitate their children’s learning because of the absence of ‘live’ lessons.
Mrs Helena Wong, mother of two children age 13 and 16, shares that only her elder daughter has ‘live’ lessons during this period of HBL. Her younger daughter who just entered Sec One, does not have ‘live’ lessons for all her subjects, instead her teachers gives her online assignments and communicates with her via email. Mrs Wong recognises the resource challenges that the schools may face in this unexpected times, however, she is worried that this lack of “FaceTime” will be detrimental for her youngest child (whom she describes as incredibly social and easily distracted). She points out that she has decided to engage tutors online so as to help her daughter stay on track with learning.
“With online private tuition, you get 100% of the tutor’s time. My daughter’s tutor has stepped up and guides her through the chapters, helping her with the weighted assignments whenever she needs the assistance.”
Classroom teaching allows teachers to sense if any students do not understand the subjects through “body cues” such as body language or expression. This is unable to be achieved when you have a classroom of thirty to forty altogether behind screens, teachers would not be able to observe the student’s body language individually as lessons are carried out through video recording. Even when there is communication through online meetings such as Google Meet, some students may feel shy and afraid to speak up in front of their classmates, hence this may impede the students learning and result in students not being able to truly understand concepts, eventually affecting their grades.
Some students may be kinesthetic learners, who strive on hand-on activities, which is something that home-based learning does not offer. In this digital age, where information can easily be found online, schools are no longer the gatekeeper of information. Education has become a social experience as the vibrancy of classrooms, the active learning is truly the reason why classroom teaching is the best medium for students. Students are intellectual beings that need to be engaged in an authentic learning environment and not just stare at their screen passively, spending the whole day communicating with their screens. No online learning platform can replace the vibrancy of classrooms and simulate it on a computer screen.
Some may argue that home-based learning is more beneficial than classroom learning as it offers flexibility to our learning. With online classes, most students can learn at their own pace. Classroom learning is not able to accommodate everyone’s learning pace due to the need to complete the curriculum with a fixed period of time. This results in the slow learners to face difficulty catching up with other students and may end up losing out to other students. However, with home-based learning, students are able to plan out their own schedule and study at their own convenience. Online learning can sometimes be more flexible as the materials are found online where students have the freedom to access it anytime. Lecture videos online also allow students to replay or fast forward the video as many times as they want according to their own learning pace, which gives students plenty of time to digest the information, practice and do their own research, which may hence improve their grades. For example, in Student Learning Space, students are given the freedom to complete their work posted on that platform anytime they want before the due date. It also allows students as well as teachers to monitor the students progress bar and be able to track their work.
In this time of Covid-19 crisis (or haze may return again) and as we move towards being a Smart Nation, Home-based learning may become the ‘new normal’. Students, Parents and Teachers must learn to work together and fine tune the process of remote learning. In this VUCA world, online learning and HBL is definitely going to be a part of the future in education and it will complement to classroom learning. Although, on some levels, it cannot replicate the same level of interaction that a classroom setting provides, it can definitely complement a student’s learning, especially in our highly connected and globalised world.