As every parent of school-going children would know, we get numerous circulars and e-mail messages from our children's school every year.
Among them, which range from notices of disease outbreak to order forms for Chinese New Year goodies, there is one that I dread most and it arrived two weeks ago.
This was at least the fourth time I had received such a circular since my daughter entered primary school, but I still let out a groan when my Primary 4 girl showed it to me.
E-learning days for P1 to P5 pupils, the circular said.
For those who are not familiar with the school system here, it means pupils do not have to go to school on these days. They are supposed to complete some online assignments at home.
These are usually days when teachers are mobilised to help with PSLE-related work such as conducting oral examinations and marking papers.
And, according to the circular, it is also to "provide our pupils an alternate mode of engaged learning through interactive content, quiz and games".
There are several reasons I dread getting such notices.
One, it means I will have to make alternative childcare arrangements. Who is going to take care of my daughter on those days while I'm at work? I know of working parents who would take leave on those days, but not everyone has the flexibility to do so. And we are not talking about one or two but at least five such days a year.
Two, which is my main bugbear, it means I will have to face the challenges of getting the computer system ready with my limited IT knowledge.
Here's what is listed in the technical specification checklist, among other things: Flash player version 7 or above.
This means the e-learning cannot be done on the iPad. Drats.
Once, I was helping my daughter with a Chinese oral e-assignment that required her to read a passage, record it and upload the file on the website.
Okay, mama, I'm ready.
But how do we record? I asked.
Oh, our teacher said we have to install a microphone.
Okay. How difficult can it be, I thought to myself. Let's just follow the instructions.
We went through the process step by step until we came to where it said "types of microphones". There are a few options, including a mic attached to a pair of headphones - the kind used by phone operators and telemarketers; and a desktop mic - the kind used by speakers at a roundtable discussion or at, well, the United Nations general assembly.
We don't have any of those, I told my daughter, while muttering under my breath: "Which household would have these things?"
It's okay. I'm sure there is a built-in mic in the laptop somewhere, I assured her, sensing her subtle disappointment.
I will click on the record button - just speak loudly at the screen, I told her.
So, in a raised voice, my daughter did her oratorical piece.
Okay, let's play back, I said.
Out popped a message on the screen: "There is an error. Please check that the microphone is connected properly."
My daughter looked at me.
Let's do it later, I said, as I shut down the laptop. My daughter knew that in mama's language, it meant: "I give up."
Such has been an annual pain for me. And I'm sure I'm not alone. Amid the frustration, I often wonder: What if I do not have a computer at home, I'm illiterate or I'm stationed overseas and my daughter lives with my parents who do not have Internet connection at home?
I'm sure there are children who live under such or similar circumstances.
Did the school take into consideration this group of children when it planned these programmes?
There is no alternative stated in the circular that says anything about pupils who are unable to complete these assignments at home can use the school's computer lab.
An acquaintance who is a primary school principal told me: "Some simply do not do the e-assignments".
There is nothing the school can do, he admitted.
While it is good to expose our children to varied ways of learning, especially in this Internet age, I'm not sure if home-based e-learning is an effective way.
If anything, it gives joy only to the children who get to enjoy extra days off from school. And extra angst for parents like me.
That reminds me, I'd better go search for that microphone.
Have e-learning days been useful for your child? E-mail email@example.com
This article was first published on Aug 10, 2014.
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