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Many countries implemented lockdown measures during the Covid-19 crisis, and called them as such. Singapore called it a ‘circuit breaker.’ We understand it to refer to a safety device that stops the flow of current in an electric circuit to prevent damage caused by the excess current. For the people in Singapore, circuit breaker means the hunkering down at home since 7 April in order to break the chain of infections of Covid-19 in the community.

A key part of the circuit breaker measures is what we call home-based learning (HBL) in Singapore, a strategy designed to aid with the learning of students at home. Implemented in all schools and institutes of higher learning, it consists of online and offline learning (Strait Times, 2020a). HBL can include one or more of the following: (1) e-learning (e.g. online assignments through the Student Learning Space (SLS) or other online learning platforms); (2) email messages (e.g. worksheets or notes via email); (3) hardcopy assignments (e.g. textbooks or worksheets) (Strait Times, 2020b).

During the full home-based learning period since 8 April, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development continued to give support and instruction for students. Meanwhile, the teachers and school personnel from the schools provided ongoing support and help for the students who need internet access or digital devices (Strait Times, 2020c). The recommendation was for primary, secondary, and junior college students to do home-based learning for four, five, six hours per day respectively. The assignments and homework were assigned based on these learning hours (Straits Times, 2020d).

Indeed, there were challenges for home-based learning. Parents have had to solve the technical problems like videos not playing smoothly or websites not loading. Further, some children were not independent learners and had difficulties in focusing on learning without the presence of teachers, so the parents had to be around to guide them. Some parents even checked their children’s work before submitting it. It had been a struggle for the parents who were working from home as they had their own work to do in their work-from-home situation (Straits Times, 2020e).

Another challenge is that the inequalities across families were likely to get worse as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to wreak havoc in the global economy. Some parents were being retrenched or were asked to take unpaid leave. Hence, low-income households encountered the problem in providing their children with adequate technological devices. Some children were even forced to share a laptop in the living room. Consequently, children had uneven access to space and could not receive technical support to help complete their studies. The longer the duration of school closure, the greater the gap, because when the children return to school, those who have fallen behind may fall further. To deal with this challenge, the Ministry of Education assisted these low-income households by loaning internet-enabling devices, and tablets or laptops to the students who do not have enough equipment for HBL at home. Such a situation helped them tide over these tough times (Straits Times, 2020a).

During the online teaching, it was challenging for the teachers as some of them are struggling with various technical issues-setting up and figuring out how Microsoft Teams work, as well as how to solve problems such as secure network or weak wireless access (Robert, 2020). The teachers had to tailor classes according to students’ needs. They probed the students as to whether they had a stable internet connection and whether they had enough equipment for online learning. If the students were unable to perform synchronous learning, the teachers needed to have an alternative way to help the students such as recording the short live teaching sessions or audio podcasts. Considering that they were not in school and were facing a lot of interference at home, the teachers should also make sure that students could allocate time to study. The teachers also had the responsibility to aid those who are struggling with online learning to ensure they would eventually be able to participate in the lessons.

In terms of basic infrastructure issues, the quality of this home-based learning experience depends on four factors, namely home-space, availability of devices, Wi-Fi speed, and parental skills. The comfortable and cozy home may suddenly become a strange and completely defective space, which feels unsuitable for learning. Thus, it is necessary to rearrange the family living environment to optimize the shared space during this period. In addition to shared space, the sharing of devices must also be resolved. In families where multiple family members shared a desktop computer or laptop, some online learning platforms were best accessed through such hardware instead of tablets and mobile phones. The lack of devices may cause further pressures in home-based learning. Even if the parents were busy completing work-related tasks on time, they were forced to give the device to their children according to the classroom schedule (Lim, 2020).

Due to the lockdown of Covid-19, there were so many people online, so the speed of the Internet had slowed down locally and globally. When everyone is at home and online at the same time, access to video and audio, and simultaneous real-time chat, the Wi-Fi speed that once supported the entire family without a failure may suddenly drop. Families who can afford broadband plans and signal-enhancing routers will have no problem, but families who cannot afford it may encounter difficulties. Repeatedly disconnecting Wi-Fi signals and troubles such as “kicking out of the classroom” may bother students. These issues will also require parents to be nearby and provide flexible technical support (Lim, 2020).

Furthermore, parental skills play an important role in home-based learning. Some parents will obviously be more proficient in technology than others as they have a higher level of education and occupational exposure to the application of technology. Therefore, they are more confident to operate various digital learning platforms and processes from basic chores like password entry and registration to more complex functions such as navigating interfaces and carrying out learning tasks. The parents’ ability to explain or elaborate or supplement the learning content will also be different. So, the teachers must remain sensitive to these differences when there are children who encounter problems in home-based learning (Lim, 2020).

It could be a difficult time for everyone amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The parents may be distressed, the teacher exhausted, and the students caught in the midst of struggling situations. More issues, both foreseeable and unforeseeable, will emerge in the post-pandemic period, such as how the effectiveness of HBL would be evaluated when students are back to school when the normal resumes.

However, despite all these difficulties, we can still benefit greatly from home-based learning. One of the benefits is that the parents may actually have a deeper understanding of their children’s learning experiences. A connection with what happened in “school” is easier to be established, thereby promoting communication and mutual understanding among the parents and children. The parents and children are able to learn from each other on how to employ technology and media, and this provides opportunities for familial bonding (Lim, 2020).

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to intervene in the field of educational technology, which is a good thing. It is believed that the current situation will bring lasting changes – for educators who are now forced to learn valuable digital skills and skills of designing and facilitating online lessons, and for students who can use the best knowledge provided by technology to strengthen learning. In other words, Covid-19 would push everyone to jump into a new educational technology scene (Robert, 2020). Since the world has developed at such a rapid rate, teaching in the form of chalk-and-talk is not sustainable in the long run. After the circuit breaker measures are lifted, teachers are more motivated to pursue some personal development or training on how to use technology for learning.

The uniqueness of Singapore is that it has over 80 per cent internet penetration which is very high among the countries in Southeast Asia. During the school closures, the Ministry of Education even lent about 12,500 laptops or tablets, and 1,200 Internet-enabling devices, such as dongles to the students who do not have sufficient devices at home for HBL. Several countries in Southeast Asia encountered the scarcity of stable internet connection and infrastructure for online learning. For instance, with data reported in 2019, there are only 57% of the population in Thailand which have access to the internet, followed by Indonesia (56%), Myanmar (39%), and Vietnam (38%). Such a situation has resulted in some students are forced to study entirely on their own at home (Jalli, 2020).

Thus, there are some recommendations for other countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere to cope with these existing challenges.  First, countries should formulate appropriate pedagogical action plans in times of pandemic and other crises. In order to mitigate the influence of school closures on education, they can work closely with major technology providers. Secondly, the government ought to provide an affordable remote satellite for internet connection in rural areas to increase internet penetration. Thirdly, affordable equipment plans can be introduced by giving special incentives to the industry to make sure that all households have at least one compatible e-learning device (Jalli, 2020).


Having narrated in some length the experiences of Singapore in home-based learning, let me share my general reflections on online learning during this pandemic. Practice-wise, HBL may not be a fresh concept, which can be traced back to the hundreds or even thousands of years of history in which learning or education happens mostly in the homes before places of learning like the monasteries, the guilds and schools come about. The HBL we talk about in this article is a re-conceptualization with the support of modern technologies and happening in new social contexts.

Singapore is highly urbanized with a high rate of Internet connectivity and technology savviness amongst its citizens, and an education system that is well-known internationally for its quality. Yet, we face problems in home-based learning especially in issues related to infrastructure support for online learning. We can imagine many countries and regions will face similar as well as other challenges in making online learning work for them. Such educational systems come from very different political, cultural and social contexts, but the infrastructural issues are all relevant and real. We need international collaboration to share our challenges and best practices, so that together as an international community, we can stand on the shoulders of others — to tackle and resolve our education and social challenges in times of pandemics.


[Chee-Kit Looi is Professor of Education at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. He was the Founding Head of the Learning Sciences Lab, the first research centre devoted to the study of the sciences of learning in the Asia-Pacific region. He is also co-Director for the Centre for Research and Development in Learning (CRADLE) at NTU. During this Covid-19 pandemic, he has been working at home for the most part, participating in virtual meetings and webinars, finding time to read books, and spending good time with family.]