Madrasah Wak Tanjong Al-Islamiah primary and secondary school
MWTI celebrated its National Day Observance Ceremony quite differently in 2020, with 'Live' streams broadcasted in our students' classrooms. Under normal circumstances, such a celebration would take place in our school hall.
Bearing Patience During the Pandemic
Singapore - At the heart of Paya Lebar, Singapore, some 500 Muslim students and teachers gather each morning at the school hall to supplicate for the safety and wellbeing of all. Dressed smartly in their well-pressed uniforms and led by their Head Prefect, the students melodiously recite the same verses in perfect harmony, timing and humility.
More than just a routine school assembly, this act of worship, which they religiously perform daily, signifies the social and spiritual ties that bind each member of the Madrasah Wak Tanjong Al-Islamiah (MWTI) family. It is a sacred union, where verses of the Qur'an are recited and life-changing lessons on hope, faith and love are shared.
The sound of the school bell has always been special to everyone - marking the start, the transitions in between and the end of a school day. Like the heartbeat of the school, it regulates the movement of people from point to point and from activity to activity.
The chime symbolises happiness, freedom and progress.
Yet, it is often overlooked and taken for granted as nothing more than a sound in the background. On a typical school day, who would have thought that at one point in time, the school bells at MWTI would continue to ring without the presence of its students and teachers?
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which first emerged slightly more than a year ago in Wuhan, China, schools all over the world experienced great uncertainty, discomfort and disruption.
When it was announced on mainstream media that schools in Singapore would be shifting to full home-based learning from April 8 to May 4, the team of academic and religious teachers, led by their Principal, Ustazah Masnia Nassim, quickly adapted to the circumstances by generating fresh ideas, exploring new platforms and curating lesson packages, and digitising their resources to immediately cater to the learning needs of their students.
Ustazah Masnia said, "As a school, we hope for the best and the competency of our staff and the quality of our students' education are of utmost importance. When it was announced that schools would have to be temporarily closed, we ensured what we could and offered support to everyone who needed them."
Under the guidance and supervision of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), MWTI took decisive and calculated steps to ensure that the educational experiences meant for all continued to be purposeful, systematic and impactful.
Here are some of the strategies adopted by the school:
1. Home-Based Learning (HBL)
After performing her dawn prayers in congregation with her family, Pre-University One (2020) student Khalisah Binti Mohamad Hamim started her school day in a completely different setting - home.
The 18-year old student, who aspires to be an educator, shared that COVID-19 and HBL offered her the opportunity to research, innovate and learn how to be a more independent student.
She said, "During the 'Circuit Breaker' period, where schools shifted their lessons online, my General Paper teacher assigned us a research task. I explored the theme of 'Environment' and discovered that research is not easy but definitely rewarding."
The challenges of adapting to online learning were real, especially for well-seasoned teachers of the school who were accustomed to the traditional face-to-face classroom arrangements.
Said Ustazah Sidah Haron, a religious teacher who has served the school for close to 30 years, conducting online lessons on Zoom and Microsoft Teams was challenging at first but it had to be carried out for the greater good.
She said, "Not being able to physically face my students during lessons was psychologically very difficult and not as fulfilling. It took quite some time for me to get used to communicating with my students and their parents online."
To help its students and their families cope with the infrastructural changes, the school offered the service of facilitating the purchase of refurbished laptops and WiFi dongles for its students.
By the time the school started its online lessons, each student was equipped with a laptop.
According to Madam Aini Safuan, Vice-Principal (Academic), "Pedagogically, COVID-19 (despite its challenges), turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It served as a catalyst and dramatically improved our teachers' proficiency in conducting lessons online."
"As a school, we learned to capitalise on the opportunity and what we aimed to achieve in a single work-year was achieved in a matter of months," she added.
2. Ramadhan - Faith Restored (Online)
The month of Ramadhan is the time of the year that every practising Muslim looks forward to. As a hub for Islamic learning, Ramadhan in MWTI is commemorated each year with a heightened zeal as the MWTI population embark on intensive Qur'an recitation sessions daily and focus on promoting a great sense of spirituality as a school.
However, with the restrictions imposed on mass religious gatherings, the school went virtual and organised a 30-minute online webinar on Zoom entitled "Faith Restored" on Friday, 8 May 2020. Chaired by one of its religious teachers, Ustaz Muaaz Mohd Abdul Halim, the event saw about 150 participants reciting and reflecting on the verses of the Qur'an.
3. Safe Management Measures
Schools reopened on 2 June 2020 with MWTI upholding safe management measures to ensure the safety and well-being of its staff and students.
To reduce the risk of transmission, the school conducts a visual screening of
its students at the points of entry for flu-like symptoms.
All staff and students are required to wear a mask to school at all times except during their meals. As an alternative, teachers are also allowed to wear a face shield if they feel uncomfortable with their masks on.
Safe distancing and personal hygiene is strictly implemented. During lessons, students are seated at least 1 meter apart. They are also required to wash or sanitise their hands regularly and perform wipe down routines and clean their chairs and tables before and after use.
Recess timings are staggered to prevent crowds of students from forming at the canteen. Designated seating arrangements with a safe distance of 1 meter are arranged.
The teaching staff were also relocated to various offices in the school, to minimise the number of employees gathering at any particular location and also to increase the gap between their workstations.
Biology and Science teacher, Mr. Sufi Ahmad, said that, "I was one of those who had to shift away from my desk. In my temporary office, we had only six teachers, all seated about two meters apart."
Temperature-taking is a must every morning. Our school's temperature-taking device, with a facial recognition scanner, allows our students' attendance to be registered.
4. National Day Observance Ceremony
Despite the pandemic and the restrictions involved, MWTI successfully and safely organised its annual National Day Observance Ceremony on 7 August 2020 to mark Singapore's 55th year of independence.
Themed "Together, A Stronger Singapore", the event was broadcasted to the entire school through a "Live" Webinar held on Zoom.
In class, the students participated in acrostic poetry writing, solved puzzles conducted presentations on important people, places and policies in Singapore.
5. Handling COVID-19
On 11 July 2020, Singapore reported a total of 170 new COVID-19 infections, including 24 cases in the community.
One of the above cases included a ten-year-old Singaporean student who had visited MWTI after he displayed symptoms on 6 July 2020.
As a result, the school had to place some of its teachers and classes on Leave of Absence for fourteen days to ensure that those who were in direct contact with the student were isolated from the rest of the school.
Said Mr. Ahmad Aidil Hadri, a Malay Language teacher, "When I first discovered that I had to be placed on Leave of Absence, I was quite apprehensive because I wasn't sure about how to conduct my teaching duties during my absence."
"The school arranged for relief teachers to take over my workload and ensure that lessons for my other classes were able to go on as usual."
Mr. Aidil stayed at Destination Hotel where he had to undergo swab tests twice to confirm that he was COVID-19 free.
Reimagining Life in School
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed MWTI to its limits and required it to adapt quickly to the new circumstances. Policies were reviewed, new work teams were formed and alternative platforms for communication were introduced.
As the new norms were developed and learned, MWTI started to utilise digital mediums - to maintain the spirit of learning, philanthropy and solidarity.
As a school and a family, MWTI hopes to overcome the major hurdles handed out by COVID-19 together, through resilience, sound leadership and patience.
May 2021 be a much better year for everyone.
Mr. Najib Siddik is a General Paper teacher at Madrasah Wak Tanjong Al-Islamiah. He is also the Subject Coordinator for the English Language Department and leads the school's Citizenship and Character Education Unit.
Madrasah Wak Tanjong Al-Islamiah is one of GEA partner schools in Singapore.