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askST: What is blended learning and how does it differ from home-based learning?

SINGAPORE – All secondary schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute will start to implement blended learning for some levels from Term 3 in 2021, Education Minister Lawrence Wong announced on Tuesday (Dec 29) at the Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals 2020.

It will then be rolled out in all such schools at all levels by Term 4 in 2022.

In addition, every secondary school student is set to receive a personal learning device (PLD) – a laptop or tablet – by the end of 2021.

What is blended learning and how does it differ from home-based learning (HBL)? Also, what are its benefits and how is the Ministry of Education (MOE) supporting students as it rolls out blended learning and issues PLDs? MOE and The Straits Times answer some burning questions from parents and students.

Q. What is blended learning and how does it differ from home-based learning?

A: Blended learning is a mix of home-based and in-school activities that taps both online and offline approaches to learning. MOE said on Tuesday that it is making blended learning a key feature of the schooling experience to further develop students’ “ability to be self-directed, passionate and lifelong learners”.

Full HBL involves students being off campus for a continuous period without returning to school. On the other hand, HBL days, as part of blended learning, will be conducted on a regular basis throughout the school year – usually for a day each time – in what the ministry hopes will inculcate the practice of self-directed learning. It complements in-school teaching and learning.

Q. How exactly might HBL complement in-person classes?

A: Giving an instance of how teachers can use HBL, MOE said students may be tasked to learn a new mathematical concept on HBL day by watching an instructional video and solving problems online via the ministry’s Singapore Student Learning Space platform. When they return to school, they can discuss the solutions to the problems in class to deepen their learning with their teachers and peers.

Q. What else might students learn during HBL that they might not get time for in the classroom?

A: In addition to curriculum coverage, MOE said time and space will be provided for students to explore their areas of interests by initiating learning activities on their own during HBL days. For example, students can read books and try out hands-on activities on topics that they are passionate about, such as tinkering, baking or playing a musical instrument.

HBL days will provide dedicated time and space for students to initiate such learning activities, which the ministry hopes will inculcate a spirit of lifelong learning.

These learning activities can be fully student-initiated, where the students identify and pursue interests of their own, or facilitated by schools, where schools curate learning activities based on their students’ interests.

Q. How can parents help their children in blended learning?

A: MOE said parents can support their children by:

– Encouraging their children to take ownership of their learning. Students are encouraged to plan their own HBL days, set their own learning goals, seek help from the right sources, and reflect on their learning.

– Setting ground rules together with their children to provide a home environment that is conducive to learning.

– Having regular conversations with their children to check in on their development, challenges and well-being. Parents can also take the opportunity during such conversations to encourage their children to explore their strengths and interests and work with them through any issues that they might need help with.

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Q. When can students expect to receive their personal learning device, and how much will it cost?

A: MOE said the devices will be distributed in two phases next year. Phase one takes place in Term 2 and covers 86 schools, while phase two sees students from 66 schools receiving their PLDs by Term 3.

Q. How much will the devices cost?

A: MOE has not revealed how much each PLD will cost, but said most students will have sufficient funds in their Edusave accounts to pay for the devices, given the one-off top-up of $200 that was provided in April this year.

This top-up was given to all eligible Singaporean students in primary and secondary schools, including those in Special Education schools, in addition to annual deposits made to Edusave accounts.

“MOE and the schools are committed to work with families to ensure that no secondary school student who should have a PLD will be without access to a PLD due to financial reasons,” said the ministry.

Mr Wong added that the ministry is also working with the Infocomm Media Development Authority to provide subsidised broadband access for students from lower-income households.

Q. Will primary schools be considered for the provision of PLDs?

A: The use of PLDs should be developmentally appropriate, said MOE. Hence, it is rolling out devices for secondary level students first, “as older students are more ready to reap the benefits of owning and using a device meaningfully”.

A pilot with five primary schools in 2021 aims to study the impact of the use of PLDs on primary students’ learning and behaviour before the ministry decides whether to roll out devices to primary levels.

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Q. What is MOE doing to help schools and students embark on blended learning and manage their device usage?

A: MOE will develop and curate Student Learning Space resources to support the learning of what is prescribed in the curriculum. The ministry also said students can look forward to a range of modules covering topics beyond the curriculum, like environmental conservation, financial literacy and digital literacy, to explore as part of student-initiated learning.

In addition, all devices under the PLD initiative come with a device management application software to enable the school and parents to manage and monitor device usage by:

– Restricting the type of applications and websites accessible by students;

– Managing the amount of screen time; and

– Allowing teachers to actively monitor and manage students’ screens during lesson time, to facilitate teaching and learning.

As part of cyber wellness education in schools, MOE said students would also learn how to take responsibility for their online well-being, which looks into the positive physical and psychosocial well-being of students in their use of mobile and internet technologies.

The ministry added that its revised Character and Citizenship Education 2021 curriculum will also feature cyber wellness education more strongly, with updated authentic scenarios used, to better equip students to navigate online spaces safely.

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