Home-based learning (HBL): A boon or bane?

Illustration of a student on home-based learning (HBL).

I had always thought HBL was a dream come true – a miracle and a welcome respite from school. But the reality was different.

Illustration of a student on home-based learning (HBL).

My heart sank a few weeks ago when we were told we were going back to home-based learning (HBL). It is a concept not foreign to me as my first year at Republic Polytechnic was during Singapore’s circuit breaker.

I had always thought HBL was a dream come true – a miracle and a welcome respite from school. In fact, years ago, this would have been my preferred way of learning. At that time, I felt there were many perks that came with having lessons at home.

For one, I wouldn’t have to wake up early and rush to campus. I wouldn’t have that long commute in the train or bus where everyone would stare blankly at each other while still in sleep land with their headphones stuck to their ears.

Also, I wouldn’t have to worry about social interactions because more often than not, we would be tasked to complete our assignments individually online during school hours.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Covid-19 era when HBL actually happened, it was far from what I expected. Words cannot express how difficult HBL has been for me personally. Now that I am older and in my second year at the poly, I do not enjoy HBL… sometimes I feel like… I hate it.

Perhaps I was naive or too young to understand the complexities of HBL. I actually thought it would give me a greater sense of freedom not under the watchful eye of the lecturer. That was certainly not the case and I literally jumped for joy when face-to-face classes resumed on campus.

But the joy was short-lived, as HBL returned – deja vu for me now in my second year. Due to Singapore’s return to a heightened version of Phase 2 and a reduction in the social cap per gathering number from eight to two, educational institutions had to revert to HBL for the rest of the semester.

While I understand that these measures are necessary to keep us all safe from the pandemic, it has been difficult for me to cope with HBL and I am sure I am not alone. There are several issues with HBL, at least for me. I could go on and on but I will just focus on some major ones.

As they say, technology can be a bane or a boon. With HBL, there is almost always a chance something will go wrong.

During an HBL class, rare is the occasion when no one has a Wi-Fi connectivity problem. Some might think these are excuses made up by students. Truth is, it is very real and I really cannot keep track of the number of times my Wi-Fi has failed me.

When my Wi-Fi goes off and my screen starts lagging, it is a real bummer especially when I am presenting. At times I have missed out vital information from the lecturer regarding solo work to be done after class. My coping mechanism is to switch to using my phone and my phone data when presenting. Truth be told it is not ideal.

Perhaps I was naive or too young to understand the complexities of HBL. I actually thought it would give me a greater sense of freedom not under the watchful eye of the lecturer. 

The other issue is I am not the only one working at home. The rest of the family is also on HBL or WFH (work from home). As my Wi-Fi connectivity in my room is bad, I often gravitate towards the living room where it is better.

However, there is always someone having an online meeting or attending their own HBL lesson. Yes, like me, my family can also get very loud when engaged in discussions. This is often a challenge for me as it hampers my class discussions during HBL.

I try to make up for this by often typing my answers in the chat, but there’s only so much a chat can do. Nothing can beat raising my hand and engaging face to face with my lecturer.

I know it is not easy for our lecturers too. Keeping 25 students engaged at the same time online is no easy feat. They are trying and I do appreciate it. Many of them do extend deadlines as they understand our Wi-Fi issues.

Some lecturers even do a recap of lessons just to make sure we are all up to speed. Just as we do not want our grades to suffer, I can see our lecturers also want us to do well and are trying their best. For that I am truly grateful.

As we head towards our mid-semester break and in the wake of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s address this week, I feel there is light at the end of the tunnel. PM Lee said that if the Covid-19 situation continues to improve and the number of community cases falls further, restrictions could be relaxed.

I remain hopeful and hope to see everyone face to face on campus next semester.

This commentary was first published on AsiaOne as part of a collaboration between the digital news website and Republic Polytechnic’s School of Management & Communication.