Service Learning in the Time of COVID-19

Service Learning in the Time of COVID-19

24 Jun 2021

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in an unprecedented manner and posed numerous challenges. Having overcome obstacles such as shifting face-to-face sessions online and adapting initial plans to COVID-19 measures, the remarkable achievements of Service Learning Projects Ulu Pandan Star, led by Hu Chenwei (4O1), and Project Curae, led by Timothy Goy (4S3), are a testament to the tenacity and adaptability displayed by their teams. 

Members of Project Ulu Pandan Star each holding a plushie

Making tuition engaging to improve the academic results of underprivileged children and establishing emotional rapport between tutor and student were but two aims of Project Ulu Pandan Star. Realising that underprivileged children did not have the same access to educational resources, the team approached Ulu Pandan Stars Centre and proposed to work with the Centre to tutor underprivileged students.  

A crossword puzzle on climate change

However, due to the pandemic, the team’s original plan had to change. According to Chenwei, “Originally, we were going to use a two-pronged approach: regular tuition sessions twice a week to foster in-depth interactions, and workshops to develop the socio-emotional aspects of the students.” Yet, the implementation of Circuit Breaker measures caused the group to move all sessions online. One major setback was the decrease in scale: from the originally-planned thirty, class sizes were lowered to four students. Furthermore, uncertainty over whether online sessions would yield an equal level of engagement from students added to the list of worries and hurdles.

Hu Chenwei (4O1) and Ron Lee (4P1) teaching a student algebraic expansion 

Despite these obstacles, the team did not falter. Innovatively utilising online platforms, the team conducted virtual scientific experiments through Physics Education Technology (PhET) Interactive Simulations to engage the students. Aiming to develop emotional rapport with their students, the team used a strength-based approach to understand their students’ issues, encourage them and troubleshoot issues.

Tan Haoxuan (4P1) and Lim Rui Xiang (4O1) teaching their students how to save money

Similarly, an equally commendable Service Learning Project, Project Curae, continued working despite the new difficulties posed by the safe management measures. This group was even awarded Best in their Category in the 2020 Project Work evaluation. Touchingly, the impetus for this project originated from a group member’s personal struggle with his grandmother’s diagnosis of dementia, and the breakdown of communication between them which strained their relationship. 

Project Curae members (photo taken before safe distancing measures kicked in). 

Timothy Goy, the leader of the group, revealed, “As classmates, having witnessed the devastating effects of dementia on one’s life and their loved ones, we knew that more needed to be done to provide additional support to people with dementia and their families.” Thus, the group aimed to destigmatise and empower people diagnosed with dementia, as well as raise awareness for the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA), so their Latin name is Project Curae, which translates to “Care” in English. 

Members of Project Curae presenting on Alzheimer’s to their class 4S3 to raise awareness

COVID-19 put paid to the group’s original intention to hold a “Walk for Alzheimer’s” event at Toa Payoh town park, as well as face-to-face sessions at ADA Centres. Moving interaction sessions online would also naturally lead to technical difficulties faced by the beneficiaries, but the group knew that they could not afford to lose heart. As Timothy put it, “The pandemic affected our plans, our motivation and our lives, but we knew that people with dementia were facing even greater difficulties, so we had to step up our game even further.”

Timothy Goy (4S3) and Brandon Hoon (4O1) conducting an online Zoom meeting interaction sessions.
A beautiful heart-shaped structure that comprised of many small paper hearts folded by the members of Project Curae, the beneficiaries and the student community in support of project.

Through Zoom meetings, the group interacted with the beneficiaries by sharing about their lives, carrying out online exercises, and playing bingo games. Although the first few online sessions felt awkward, the participants began to warm up to the group. To enhance the publicity efforts, Project Curae ran an extensive social media campaign through platforms like Instagram. Having helped 46 beneficiaries over 141 hours through online interaction sessions, garnered over 2,000 views on social media and gained valuable takeaways on a personal level, Timothy summed up the year as thus, “I would rate the success of this year’s project a 10/10.”

Written by Clavin Cher Hui Yao (2I1)