The spread of COVID-19 has created considerable uncertainty and unpredictability to the schedules and plans of students in Singapore and around the world. At this unprecedented time in human history, the safety of all students, staff and faculty members of the National Institute of Education is paramount. To demonstrate resilience as an institute of excellence, as well as to show solidarity with our nation, a number of extraordinary measures were progressively implemented as the situation developed. We have continued to stand together with all members of the National Institute of Education community to ensure that you are protected and supported.
Prioritising our interests
Both large and small gatherings were cancelled or rescheduled to minimise risks for everyone within and outside the National Institute of Education. Most notably, we were unable to carry out our 70th anniversary celebrations in the ways we had planned. Other affected events included the National Institute of Education Staff Dinner, OPUS: NIE Gala Concert, Caring Teacher Awards, International Science Education Conference, Science of Learning Symposium, NTU-MIND Symposium and the Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference.
Safeguarding our community
The National Institute of Education acted quickly, comprehensively and coherently in response to the evolving demands of the situation. We set up a temperature-checking station at the National Institute of Education Administrative Block Lobby to enforce twice-a-day temperature-taking, intensified the cleaning of classrooms and common areas, installed hand-sanitiser units across the campus, and limited crowds through safe distancing measures. This included reducing class sizes and implementing alternate seating arrangements in lecture theatres and tutorial rooms, before online lessons became mandatory.
Recreational facilities were closed, library hours were shortened, and floor markings for safe distancing became a campus-wide occurrence. A contact tracing system was put in place, while faculty and student movements were tracked against their timetables. All faculty, staff and students were asked to update their contact details. The senior leadership team adopted a “split-team” work arrangement at first, before working from home and online meetings became de rigueur once the Circuit Breaker kicked in.
Suspending overseas travel
All travel declarations had to be made up to July 2020, while overseas trips for conferences, international exchanges and international practicum were put on hold. Not forgetting personnel who were abroad, all students on official trips were recalled back to Singapore, and faculty were strongly encouraged to return. Provisions were also made for our overseas graduate scholars to return. We monitored all students and faculty who returned from overseas, and helped with daily surveillance and courtesy calls to those on leave of absence and/or stay home notices.
Stepping up on e-learning
Teaching is critical to the National Institute of Education, and faculty members rose to the challenge by creating new online sessions to replace face-to-face classes. Some 733 courses (or half the total number of the National Institute of Education courses) were already available on NTULearn, before all of our courses eventually went online by 6 April 2020. The Centre for Innovation in Learning came forward to facilitate technology-enabled learning as well as offer practical guidelines. This included ‘IN-Touch by IN-Learning’, a broadcast channel offering useful tips, infographics and resources to faculty members.
While all students were unable gain practicum experience in a regular classroom during this time, they have picked up new info-comm skills and insights through home-based learning. For participants of the Professional Development (PD) and Leaders in Education Programmes, courses were split into half-day offerings to help teachers cope with a full, home-based learning workload. Assignment deadlines and modes were adjusted to allay the anxieties of the PD participants.
Some overseas assignments were replaced with local and virtual learning experiences. Likewise, curriculum projects for the Management and Leadership in Schools Programme, as well as research activities by the Office of Education Research, were conducted online. While the Teacher Leaders Programme was not impacted in a major way, participants were encouraged to implement their action research, while plans are being made to facilitate the cluster-level workshops when opportunities arise.
We made changes to assessments and took guidance from the University in preparing for scenarios where written examinations may be disrupted. To drive service improvements, we developed an online solution for administering student feedback.
Staying in touch via our Virtual Staff Lounge
During this time of physical isolation, it can become tempting to think that we are all alone. We miss the staff room and all the social interactions that enable us to function as a school. In creating a collaboration platform to support one another as well encourage the sharing of home-based teaching and learning experiences, a Virtual Staff Lounge was initiated by the Office of Education Research. Contributions to the portal are welcome and the submission guidelines can be found here.
Recruitment fairs go virtual
For school-leavers aspiring to sign up for the NTU-NIE Teaching Scholars Programme, a live chat was organised as part of NTU’s virtual open house. Associate Professor Chow Jia Yi, Associate Dean for Programme and Student Development, and Dr Alexius Chia, Associate Dean of Practicum and Partnerships, gamely took on a wide range of questions from a Facebook audience on 29 February 2020.
Likewise, the annual NIE Postgraduate & Continuing Education Fair was conducted virtually by the Office of Graduate Studies and Professional Learning on 16 May 2020. The event reached out to visitors from Singapore and as far as Australia and South Africa, and more than 1,500 viewers tuned-in to the NIEGPL Facebook live chats organised as part of the event.
We are working closely with NTU and MOE to provide a smooth transition into the National Institute of Education for all new students starting their semester in August 2020. The focus will be on meaningful engagement and representative learning experiences for important components such as the Group Endeavours in Service Learning projects.
Free and open access to e-resources
As more content providers pitched in to make resources free or temporarily available in support of homebased learning, the National Institute of Education library swiftly compiled a quick guide to the e-books, databases and journals that can be accessed by our staff and students from home.
To help faculty and staff grapple with online teaching and home-based learning for their children while working from home, the Office of Teacher Education published a list of resources and education-related Covid-19 articles on the National Institute of Education website.
Some of our faculty have also been featured in the media, providing advice and commentaries on homebased learning, food consumerism, physical and mental well-being and social responsibility. How many of our colleagues have you spotted in the news lately?
The National Institute of Education has braced itself to catalyse online learning, and to encourage more innovative e-pedagogies during this challenging period. We have also seized the opportunity to improve on the mentoring of beginning teachers, explore new ways to deliver learning, and enable more courses to be modularised.
Spreading Love Through NIE Care Packs
Living the National Institute of Education spirit, we showed our appreciation to colleagues and essential service providers who continued to demonstrate their unwavering commitment and selflessness during the COVID-19 pandemic by arranging and distributing Care Packs. Contents of the Care Packs included breakfast cereal, cup noodles, a bottle of hand sanitiser and a limited edition the National Institute of Education 70th Anniversary souvenir notebook. Special thanks to our generous sponsors for the kind contributions.
Showing Solidarity With Singapore As One NIE
Some of the Singaporeans and Permanent Residents amongst us have decided to forgo all or part of our S$600 or S$300 Solidarity payments received from the government, opting instead to pool the proceeds in aid of a deserving local organisation. As an institute of teacher education, we are committed to showing solidarity with Singapore society’s underprivileged through this and other initiatives undertaken by our people at a personal or community level.
Demonstrating Support Through Song
As a salute to all teachers in Singapore, nearly 30 staff, students and alumni from the National Institute of Education Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Academic Group rallied their instruments, voices and talents to stage a rousing ensemble performance from their homes. Performing the song “When You Believe” originally sung by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey for the movie, “The Prince of Egypt”, the VPA performers put their own spin on the music arrangement, with instrumentation ranging from a piano, recorder and guitar, to a violin, cello, clarinet and Indian drums!
Be A Star On NIE Snapshot!
Within a short time frame, teachers across Singapore have had to adapt to teaching online, constantly working round the clock to ensure that lessons are delivered and understood by their students. We’d like to thank all teachers during this unprecedented time, and invite readers to upload their photos to thank their teachers on NIE Snapshot.
The NTU COVID-19 Relief Package offers ready support to needy students impacted by the pandemic. Announced by NTU President Professor Subra Suresh on 22 April 2020, the package comprises:
- A S$2 million OneNTU Fund for students from Singapore (citizens and permanent residents). Eligible students may receive an interest-free advance of up to S$1,500, which they will reimburse to the University within two years of graduation.
- An NTU Priorities Fund for students from Singapore and abroad. Beneficiaries will pledge to “pay it forward” within two years of graduation by repaying the interest-free cash assistance to the University along with any philanthropic contributions.
- Extension of candidature and waiver of tuition fees by up to one semester for final-year PhD and Master’s students, whose research work had been disrupted by the closure of laboratories in early April due to the pandemic.
- An additional S$1,600 in alumni credits for all fresh graduates in the Class of 2020. The additional credits may be combined with the existing S$1,600 in credits received by all alumni to offset the fees for a suite of NTU Continuing Education and Training (CET) courses.