Safety, social responsibility and adaptability — these are the key goals that Singapore is keeping front and centre as the coronavirus pandemic evolves, and SMU is doing its part too as we continue our efforts to prioritise the health of our students, faculty, staff and partners while fulfilling our mission as a university.
Since the Covid-19 situation emerged in Singapore in late January 2020, SMU has adapted swiftly to keep pace with new developments taking place nationally and across the world. The prompt response ensures we are able to continue with our key functions through our community collaborating closely and working together.
Events developed at an unprecedented speed and by end of January it was clear that a university-wide initiative was necessary and that we needed to be nimble and rethink our operations, strategy and priorities to mitigate the crisis.
To prepare for the possibility of the pandemic escalating, we prepared other contingency plans which enabled the University to continue with its teaching and learning activities as well as its key business operations.
Education at its most innovative
As a proponent of integrating technology for improved teaching and learning outcomes, SMU has been embracing advancements in EdTech in our curriculum. During the first few months of the year, we ramped up our IT systems support to make classes available in online formats and all classes were moved online on 30 March. Students can access active learning classes via WebEx, and videos and online resources via eLearn. For more support, they can reach out to instructors, academic counsellors and School or Programme Managers for help with study-plans and catch-up lessons.
Furthermore, this is a critical period for our students, who are currently completing their graded assessments and preparing to sit for examinations. To minimise any delay to their degree progression and graduation, over the past month or so we made the necessary preparations for alternative assessments and remote online examinations. Most recently, we moved all classes and examinations online and allowed students to decide whether they wish to take the grades for some or all of the courses they took this semester or turn them into Pass/Fail.
SMU faculty members also continue to work to ensure that the curriculum remains relevant in these changing times. SMU Deputy Director, Office of Core Curriculum and Assistant Professor of Humanities (Education) Aidan Wong mentioned that included in the Core Curriculum is the course ‘Singapore: Imagining the next 50 years’, which engages directly with the topic of social resilience and total defence, particularly in times of adversity. Prof Wong and his team plan to incorporate in this and coming school terms important insights from the unfolding Covid-19 situation.
Safety for students, faculty and staff
We have been conducting temperature-taking across the whole university to safeguard the well-being and safety of our community since February. Many staff members volunteered their time to help out with this process at the start or end of their work day and during their lunch breaks. One such volunteer, Head of HR Information Systems Jamie Sng explained, “It was good to have an opportunity to help out, even in such a small way. It took the strain off our security and front desk staff whilst helping to keep our students, faculty, staff and visitors safe.”
Since the Singapore Ministry of Health raised the risk assessment of Covid-19 to DORSCON Orange on 7 February, the University has also suspended most CCA activities and training sessions organised by student clubs.
Before closure of the campus on 7 April, a few were allowed to continue, after careful evaluation. For these, we took into account factors such as the number of participants, and whether the activities would involve minimal close contact between participants. In light of enhanced social distancing, student activities on campus have been deferred.
The mental health of our students during this time is also very important to us. Our dedicated team of professional counsellors and team of student peer helpers have been helping our students cope with any stress or anxiety. SMU undergraduate Catherine Ng explained how her role as a Student Peer Helper is particularly valuable in the current situation. “SMU Peer Helpers are full time undergraduates students trained in helping skills who work closely with the professional counsellors at the Mrs Wong Kwok Leong Student Wellness Centre. I also provided support for students staying in SMU Prinsep Street Residences who were affected by the pandemic. I was heartened to be able to be their listening ears and to do all I could to be helpful,” she said.
SMU staff held a pilot run for split-team working and telecommuting from 26 February 26 to 10 March. The feedback from the trial run helped us to identify how to enhance our work processes. On March 23, our staff began telecommuting on alternate weeks with a split-team working arrangement; and from 1 April, staff whose work responsibilities do not require them to be on campus began full telecommuting until further notice.
Ushering in a new generation of learners
On 29 February and 1 March, we held our first Virtual Open House utilising new platforms and formats to showcase SMU’s academic offerings and culture. In response to new border restriction measures, we suspended all official overseas student programmes and activities until the end of July 2020, and are working to recall students currently taking part in such programmes and provide alternative learning arrangements.
Our 2020 admissions exercise is currently underway. Having gained valuable experience from SMU Virtual Open House, we are making sure that the various avenues for the assessment of prospective students can be conducted online. These include SMU Discovery Day, scholarship interviews, admissions interviews.
For the first time SMU Masters Day, an open house for postgraduate students, was similarly hosted online for the first time on 21 March. The virtual event attracted strong interest with over 3,000 page views, around 50 participants in each per webinar and some 50 chat queries during the live, 4-hour session.
For the latest updates on SMU’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, visit https://crisisresponse.smu.edu.sg/. This story was up-to-date when posted online on 1 April 2020.