Indian expat schools adapt to online teaching

Indian international schools in Singapore have quickly adapted to the Covid-19 situation with Global Indian International School (GIIS), Yuvabharathi International School (YBIS) and DPS International (DPSI) switching to home-based learning (HBL) from late March.

"We were fully prepared," said Mr Atul Temurnikar, chairman and co-founder of Global Schools Foundation, which runs GIIS campuses in Punggol and East Coast. "We had installed the infrastructure two years ago and had planned how to hold virtual classes even before the circuit breaker measures were announced by the Government."

The seemingly seamless transition saw the schools adhere to social-distancing norms and resort to Zoom and Google video and audio facilities to keep the classes going.

"The Covid-19 situation taught us to think laterally for continuity of education," said Mrs Latha Mohankumar, director, YBIS. "Initially it was a challenge for our teachers, students and parents. But all of them adapted well to the challenges.

"We commenced our HBL sessions with the senior secondary classes. Before that, the teachers handling senior secondary classes were given training. And those teachers in turn trained the junior teachers. Thus all the teachers gained confidence in taking full-fledged virtual classes."

Mr Charanjit Gill, principal, DPSI, said that "being in a country which has advanced IT technology, it was not difficult to move to online teaching methods". He added: "Our teachers and students quickly adapted to the new way of education and the parents are happy."

The three schools reported that virtual classrooms have been 100 per cent successful during the circuit breaker period.

"We delivered 61/2 hours of virtual teaching daily to each class," said Mr Temurnikar. "We have also been able to provide co-curricular activities such as music and dance via our advanced Zoom facilities. Even students who were stuck in India due to the lockdown could join the classes."

GIIS took a special Zoom licence for webinars. "The question and answer sessions are hugely popular," said Mr Temurnikar. "The teacher has better control over video and audio settings and strangers cannot barge in."

All the schools are engaging the students with initiatives such as spelling bees, quizzes and writing and reciting competitions.

"Learning from home is not the same as being in the class," said Raman Gupta, a 12th standard GIIS student. "We don't see the teacher face to face and get directions. But we have discovered new ways to interact online. We still collaborate for assignments. Two months ago, we were not familiar with Zoom and Google Docs. But we have now adjusted to them."

To Taranjit Kaur, a 10th standard student at YBIS, "studying from the comfort of home has been good". She said: "Online classes are informative and interactive. Teachers are able to show videos and we are able to understand concepts better."

Ms Latha Pradeep, who teaches global perspective and environmental management to senior students at GIIS Punggol, pointed out that the teachers were a little apprehensive at the beginning. "We were not in a classroom and there were no textbooks," she said. "It was also a new academic year and we didn't know some of the students. We were worried if we could get the students on track."

According to her, the teachers put in extra effort. "We spent more time on preparation," she said. "We have to engage the students all the time as there is not much recreation time."

All the hard work apparently paid off. "The classes are interactive and lots of fun," she said. "There are no disciplinary issues and students who were shy are more forthcoming now. For sure, virtual teaching will not hinder education."

According to Mr Gill, "online classes are a great blessing from the education point of view as children pay more attention". He added: "There is no distraction and peer pressure. It was a bit difficult in the beginning as the parents were also sitting alongside the children and observing. But our teachers have done a good job and have convinced the parents that their children are not missing anything by going online."

The YBIS management members too found online teaching a novel experience, but they have begun to believe that it is going to be the norm.

"We split the regular classes into small groups so that individual attention can be given," said Mrs Mohankumar. "We can see the enthusiasm of the children as they are alert and raising questions with the teachers.

"Definitely, they miss the physical classroom environment. But they get equal opportunities to give their views on various topics and this has enhanced their confidence to express themselves on a public platform."

The YBIS management is happy with the way the virtual classes are progressing and will stick to the process until the Government calls for changes. "We are having holidays till June 22. After that, we will follow the government directive," said Mrs Mohankumar. "The school (which has about 1,400 students and 80 teachers at its Jurong campus) is prepared for both physical and virtual classes so that our children will have continuous education. Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) said we have to be prepared and face this situation for a longer period. The school is ready to face the future with no fear."

GIIS, which has about 3,400 students and 350 teachers on its two campuses, is on vacation till June 30. "After that, we will follow the Government's directive and follow the 50-50 model," said Mr Temurnikar. "Every two weeks, 50 per cent of the students will alternate between HBL and classes at school."

He added that GIIS will employ measures to ensure safe distancing. "Group thermal scanners will be installed," said Mr Temurnikar. "Mingling will be reduced at the library and cafeteria. We are trained to deal with the new normal. We are fully prepared to hold virtual classes for the next one or two years if need be."

The virtual classes are ongoing at DPSI, which has about 1,500 students and 100 teachers at its Aroozoo Avenue campus. The school will close for a week at the end of this month.

"We have decided to continue with online classes even after the break," said Mr Gill. "Parents were a bit concerned about their children returning to school. So we did a poll and 84 per cent of the parents said they prefer online classes. For three weeks after the school reopens, we will have virtual classes. We will see after that."

"Learning from home is not the same as being in the class. We don't see the teacher face to face and get directions. But we have discovered new ways to interact online. We still collaborate for assignments."

- Raman Gupta, a 12th standard student at the GIIS SMART campus in Punggol


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