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“Please Unmute Yourselves”: Graduating amidst a Pandemic

Updated: Jan 11, 2022


COVID-19 has touched almost every corner of our society, but much to students’ common dismay, education was a sector that kept running in each phase of Singapore’s pandemic response. Like it or not, school remained an ever-present reality in our lives. Even though most students enjoyed later waking times, self-declared extended deadlines because “sorry my wifi suddenly spoil, cannot submit on time”, and the ability to “eat in class”, the new way of schooling may come at a disadvantage to the graduating batch of students who traditionally required more intensive preparations for major examinations.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Lee

I will be taking my International Baccalaureate examinations in November, and I spoke to Alethea Lee (MSS) and Samuel Lau (SPS), who will be taking their GCSE ‘O’ Level examinations. We bonded over our common experience of graduating in the midst of a pandemic. Here’s what our conversation looked like:

Did you enjoy Home-based Learning (HBL) and how do you think it has benefitted / disadvantaged your major exam preparations?

Alethea: I was rather worried because I was not sure if online lessons would be as effective as onsite lessons. I think this uncertainty is more evident among the graduating classes. Initially, it was hard to adapt to online lessons. Everyone, including the teachers, was trying to adapt to it, so it was quite chaotic. However, after the first week of HBL, I started to get used to this lifestyle. The worry of completing the ‘O’ Level syllabus also started to disappear. Although it was a different way of learning, I don’t think it hindered my preparation as much as I had thought it would.

Alethea (middle on the 1st row) with her schoolmates, Samuel (2nd from the right) with his schoolmates Photo courtesy of Alethea Lee and Samuel Lau

Samuel: It gave me more time to study by myself which is how I have always studied. I did not need to get up at 6.00 a.m. to get ready for school. I could wake up one and a half hours later and take my time before turning my computer on for lessons. Life became much more relaxed and far more convenient for me. The familiar environment at home also provided me with a sense of comfort that allowed me to study more productively. Not to mention, I could eat snacks whenever I felt hungry!

Unlike Alethea and Samuel, the Circuit Breaker was detrimental to my productivity as I felt unmotivated to study at home. I’m used to studying in school. I’m also someone who works best under the pressure of watching other students mugging! Being alone in my room with stacks of Math assessment papers made it impossible for me to resist succumbing to the lonely calls of my bed.

Many school events were cancelled due to the pandemic. Tell me about the ones you were looking forward to.

Alethea: Sports Day is something that the whole school looks forward to every year, so it was disappointing that it got scrapped. I had participated in the cheerleading competition over the past years, and had always hoped to participate in a track event. I was planning to do so this year, so it’s too bad that it didn’t materialise. There were many other events that were cancelled, which was very disappointing especially for the graduating classes, but the school still tried their best to make other events, such as Racial Harmony Day, as enjoyable as they could.

Samuel: This did not really impact me because I wanted to focus on my studies this year! Besides, all the important events like Fine Dining and Sec 4 Farewell were not affected by COVID-19. However, I was really looking forward to Sports Day in our school and was upset that I had missed many PE lessons. There were severe restrictions implemented and our PE teachers could only give us limited things to do which were not as enjoyable as before.

The restrictions enforced to contain COVID-19 hit close to home for me. I was about to begin my last season of the National School Games, but we could not compete. I was also organising the Year One Orientation when the first wave of restrictions hit and we had to scramble to change plans while Orientation was ongoing. So many other hallmark events of the school had to be cancelled, which was disappointing because we had already begun planning. My school did also organise a series of online events that kept everyone’s spirits up during Circuit Breaker. Although we were physically apart, it was nice that we could engage with the school community over Facebook and Instagram.

You’re entering a new phase of life next year. What are some concerns you have or issues you foresee surfacing?

Alethea: I have been thinking about which schools I should go, be it Junior College or Polytechnic. I am also a little concerned about whether I can settle in the new environment and make new friends. At the same time, I think it's a very exciting opportunity. Regarding my concerns about the COVID situation, I don’t think I have much to worry about. I think the situation in Singapore is getting better, and things are going back to normal, so hopefully most activities can resume next year. However, I do understand that certain limitations like gathering in large groups may require more time, so next year’s orientation may be scaled down as well. All in all, I am nervous, but also excited to see what comes after ‘O’ Levels.

Samuel: I think as I enter the next phase in my life, which I am hoping is at a JC, things will get even more fast-paced. I will not be able to play much with my friends and will keep my focus on studying. I also have worries about coping because my friends tell me that there is a great jump in workload and extra-curriculars.

I am currently in the midst of applying for University and there is a lot of uncertainty about my future with the evolving COVID-19 situation, especially abroad, where I have also applied to. Securing a job during my holiday is a challenge, even though there are many new jobs available for part-timers like temperature scanners at malls (they pay pretty well too). I also fear that many industries will become obsolete and phase out certain jobs I am suited for. However, my excitement in starting a new life of greater independence is not dampened and I am waiting to see what the future will bring.

What are some good things about HBL / Circuit breaker?

Alethea: I definitely had more free time to do the things that I like, as well as spend more time with my family. I used to bake with my mom and sister when we were younger, however it’s been awhile since we last did so. During the Circuit Breaker period, we started baking again, and I really enjoyed the time spent with my family. I also had more time to catch up on my sleep! I really love to sleep, and I dread waking up early in the morning to prepare for school.

Samuel: At first, I was disappointed at the thought that I would not be able to spend as much time with my friends. However, this was not entirely so because we still spent a lot of time interacting over video calls, even playing games together over Zoom and Houseparty. I was able to interact more with my family members and got to know more about them.

Hanging out with my family was also a positive outcome of being cooped up at home together. We made home-cooked meals and tried doing pilates and dances at home together. I also embarked on a daily exercise regimen to keep myself physically fit. I found myself picking up new books and re-reading old favourites like Harry Potter, as well as delving into the array of new films Netflix with my family. I even celebrated my birthday over Houseparty with my friends and received many foot and gift deliveries at my house.

¹ Mugging refers to the stuffing of a great deal of information from the textbook into his head, meaning tons of mere studying for long periods of time.

Samantha is currently a student at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and a member of El Chaiyai in MSS. An active lover of eating food and online shopping, she is open to all donations to fund these hobbies. You can follow her @un.licensed on Instagram.

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