COVID-19 has had an impact on a number of industries. The latest wave of cases forced tuition centres and enrichment centres to take their classes offline. Four City Harvest Church members who run such centres share how God came through for them in this tough season.
Singapore took a step back in its effort to reopen the economy when it entered into Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) on May 16 this year. Dining in was once again suspended and social gatherings were limited to two. Schoolchildren spent one week doing home-based learning before the school holidays, and this week, HBL continues for many. Once again, with this new phase, many businesses were affected.
Among those feeling the impact are the tuition and enrichment centres, as well as private teachers. A COVID cluster emerged from a tuition centre in mid-May, leading to closure of all such centres during Phase 2 (HA). Though this was a blow to these businesses, it was still less stressful than it was in 2020 when they had to pivot and move classes online almost immediately.
Four businesses run by City Harvest members share how God was present through this phase.
“THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS SO REAL TO US”
Stanley Yew, who owns Yew Tuition Centre together with his wife Jaques, recalls the unprecedented situation in 2020—it was God who gave them a heads up. “Even when the government said they weren’t going to close the schools, the Holy Spirit told us that schools would eventually close,” he says.
Jaques added, “He told us to ‘get ready for Zoom’—the message was so direct.” Immediately, the Yews started searching for suitable conferencing applications to take their lessons online.
“Our church had already stopped holding in-person service by mid-February 2020, and all church activities went online—being in ministry helped our work,” she explains. They drew from their experience as CHC cell group leaders, having had to adopt online platforms such as Facebook Live to conduct cell group meetings. They eventually settled on using Zoom for online lessons after testing the platform out with the teachers on their staff.
Back in early 2020, parents of their students were not receptive to the idea of online lessons. “When my wife told them that schools might close and that we were getting ready to do online lessons, some parents got very angry and told her not to spread fake news,” Stanley recalls.
But the Yews soldiered on, faithfully teaching parents how to use Zoom for online classes. “When the government eventually announced the suspension of lessons in the centres, we were so grateful we had prepared for it. We felt that the Holy Spirit was so real,” he adds. “Last year during the Circuit Breaker, our dropout rate was less than 1 percent when the school and centre closures were announced.”
Out of 1,000 students, the Yews experienced barely five dropouts. On top of that, God added new students to their centre in the midst of the lockdown.
“All we prayed for was that there would not be many students dropping out, but God did above and beyond,” Jacques recounts in gratitude. “It was virtually unheard of—we knew of many tuition centres that had to suspend their classes during Circuit Breaker last year, but for us, we actually added classes. God is very good to us.”
When Singapore’s government announced Phase 2(HA) this year, “we were not very nervous,” shares Jaques. “We had already been through that experience and we knew that God did it for us last year and He would do it again for us this year.”
True enough, Yew Tuition retained all their students and experienced new registrations during the recent June school holidays. “God gave us a lot of favour throughout this whole season. We cannot be more thankful because the Holy Spirit is always there to lead us to guide us.”
At Champs Tuition, owned by CHC member Elly Gui, students benefitted not only from online classes this past month, but Elly decided to go the extra mile by bringing in new study material for them.
“The heightened alert period happened just as we were moving into a new semester,” she explains. “We were going from part one of the book to part two when classes had to be moved online.”
Her teachers worked extra hard, making trips to deliver study materials to all their students in the day before conducting lessons online in the evening. Not surprising, then, that Champs Tuition maintained their student intake.
ADAPTING MUSIC LESSONS TO A VIRTUAL PLATFORM
Salome Hoon, a keyboardist in CityWorship, teaches piano from her home. At the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 became a pandemic, different people had told her to prepare to bring her lessons online.
“I tried the online lessons with some existing students, and they all gave me pretty positive feedback,” she recalls. When the Circuit Breaker happened, Salome was able to move her lessons online without much problem.
She gave her students and their parents the freedom to choose the online platform that worked best for them. “I gave them some ideas, like how to prop up their phone and how to angle it so that I could see the students fingers playing the keyboard,” she shares.
Even when Singapore moved into Phase 2, Salome did not restart physical lessons for all her students immediately. “Reason being that I have some students who are healthcare workers, and they understand that I have students from all walks of life, of different ages, from different schools. They decided they would stay online.”
But online teaching and learning piano wasn’t entirely hiccup-free. “There are some students who are not audio-visual learners—they learn kinaesthetically.” Some of the younger students found it hard to focus and were easily distracted and restless during the online lesson.
“I try to engage them by playing songs that they like—church songs or movie theme songs—so that it inspires them to play the piano,” she says.
Salome has around two dozen students. While none of them dropped out of her classes during Phase 2(HA) this year, some parents were financially hit by the latest lockdown and found it hard to continue with weekly classes. Having the flexibility of a home-based business, Salome was able to cater to each student’s needs and allow them to take lessons at their own pace.
When asked why she would go to these lengths, Salome responds, “I see this more than a job—it’s a ministry to empower others, so that they will feel equipped to serve God, to have that worship atmosphere wherever they go.”
She is also thankful to God that despite circumstances, she has received testimonies from her students of how they managed to experience God while playing the piano, either by themselves or during online cell group meetings.
“Despite our playing being online, I think there’s no discounting the fact that we can encourage and empower one another and build our faith,” she says.
LEARNING TO TRUST GOD
While the tuition centres and music teachers saw success in bringing their lessons online, things were not as easy for art school, LACA.
During the lockdown last year, LACA had to stop all its classes. “For the past three years, I’ve found that the best way to teach adults is to do it physically,” says CHC member Moses Chua, founder of the art academy. When the Circuit Breaker started in 2020, all his students chose to stop their lessons until physical lessons were allowed to resume in Phase 3 of the reopening of the economy.
LACA is an art academy that specialises in fine art. For the learner, an art lesson is about the whole experience of creating an artwork with the teacher guiding them along physically. “Doing it online is very different,” Moses says. In addition, there were art materials that had to be delivered to students for online lessons.
However, LACA started new classes catering to children and teenagers one month before Phase 2(HA) happened this May. “I moved some of the classes online, but a few classes had to stop,” he shares.
But Moses remained unfazed. “At the end of the day, my trust is in the Lord and this is what has kept me having peace and rest in God.”
Moses has taken this past month to prepare for the future. Two weeks before Phase 2(HA) happened, opportunities started coming his way to open up his classes to new demographics, such as Russian expats.
“I’m thankful to God for the opportunities and I’m very hopeful for what lies ahead,” he smiles. He is also trying to help his friends in church who are art teachers who have lost their source of income during this pandemic.
Despite the pressures and worries that come with the pandemic, all these centre owners and teachers have found grace and hope in God. Moses says it well when he says it boils down to trust: “Even in times of uncertainty, it is the trust in God that will bring peace into one’s situation.”