Singaporean universities handling shift to remote learning better than grade schools

An empty classroom in SingaporeAn empty classroom in Singapore. Photo: I, Sengkang / CC BY-SA

As schools and universities have turned to remote learning to ensure students do not miss out despite the coronavirus pandemic, a survey revealed that in Singapore, universities are handling the switch significantly better than primary and secondary schools.

By John Pennington

A good start but could do much better. That is the verdict of parents in Singapore whose children have been learning remotely since the coronavirus outbreak forced schools and universities to change how they deliver lessons and courses.

According to a Citrix survey, a 69% majority of Singaporean parents believe that their children’s primary or secondary schools were not well prepared to provide remote learning. The survey looked at seven countries all over the world and ranked the city-state as the best-prepared and most seamless in enabling remote learning.

Of respondents in Singapore, 30% of parents reported a frictionless transition to the new method of lesson delivery, ahead of those in Australia (25%) and Mexico (19%). Encouragingly, only 6% of parents in Singapore reported persistent technical difficulties that hampered remote learning.

The new survey compares very favourably with the 71% of Singaporeans working from home during the pandemic who reported frustration with technical issues that prevented them from working, according to a report by Limelight Networks.

Schools need to improve instructions and communication

The key takeaway from the Citrix survey is that for remote learning to work, primary and secondary schools need to organise their teaching more effectively and spend more time communicating directly with their students. The sudden shift to remote learning brought such issues quickly to the fore as there was no time for a trial run. Problems such as poor teaching (reported by 45% of respondents) are still being addressed. Educational establishments are refining remote learning as they go.

There is no reason the quality of remote learning cannot continue to improve over time. In April, an Eenst & Young report into what COVID-19 means for education advised authorities to “create channels to receive regular feedback from learners and parents on their experience with remote learning, and actively incorporate such feedback, where possible.”

The more remote learning becomes integrated within countries’ education programmes, the more feedback teachers and administrators will receive, allowing them to work on areas of weakness and build on their strengths.

One area in which Singapore excelled was getting students in front of computers. They scored highly, with 99% of students able to access remote learning via their own or a shared family device. This is partly thanks to Singapore’s goal of providing all Secondary 1 students with their own device by 2024. As some parents bought laptops or tablets specifically for remote learning, the country could reach that target ahead of schedule.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created the biggest remote learning experiment in history,” said Leanne Taylor, chief operating officer for Asia Pacific & Japan at Citrix. “While it is encouraging that Singaporean institutions have already taken an approach to provide devices, much more can be done to provide students with the flexibility to use their preferred apps and platforms to collaborate with their peers and teachers.”

Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Singapore University of Technology and Design. Photo: Smuconlaw / CC BY-SA

Universities got a better report card than schools

Universities fared better in the survey, which reports they appeared better prepared for remote learning than schools. Some 83% of university students said their institution adjusted to the challenge and they did not feel their learning was adversely affected. Furthermore, a 59% majority said they preferred the new mix of onsite and online learning and almost a quarter (23%) would be happy to continue with solely online learning in the future.

As universities seem to have adapted quicker to the needs of remote learning, there might be an opportunity in the future for them to share some resources and even train teachers at schools in order to close the gap. However, as students answering questions about universities may be less likely to be critical of their education than parents of primary or secondary school children, the gap may not be as large as the numbers suggest.

Nevertheless, for remote learning to work and ensure no child is left behind, both schools and universities—all over the world—have work to do. “Today’s educational institutions need to establish a unified online environment that is secure and easy to use for students, teachers and parents,” Taylor added. “More can be done to improve the overall learning experiences given that remote offerings will continue to complement schooling and academic education for the near term.”

The lack of face-to-face interaction with teachers and peers is impossible to completely replace via remote methods. Ensuring that courses are delivered appropriately and seamlessly is, however, achievable. With no end to the pandemic in sight and a universal vaccine still some way off, the more feedback that leads to improved remote learning the better—for teachers, their students and Singapore’s future.

About the Author

John Pennington
John Pennington is an English freelance writer and a self-published author. He graduated from the University of Warwick with a bachelor’s degree in French and History in 2006. After spending time as a sports journalist, he now writes about politics, history and social affairs.