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A lesson in empathy through COVID-19

05 Mar 2020

Jyotsnaa, returning LOA student

Returning from her Leave of Absence, Jyotsnaa Jayashanker from Xinmin Primary hopes people would not blame China for the outbreak of COVID-19.

The threat of COVID-19 cuts across race and nationality. Despite having to go on a Leave of Absence, Jyotsnaa Jayashanker from Xinmin Primary has a positive message to share about what it means to empathise with others in times of uncertainty.
By secondary school teacher, Goh Hong Yi.

Despite having to miss three weeks of school in her PSLE year, Jyotsnaa Jayashanker from Xinmin Primary School did not regret her trip to China in January.

As an aspiring singer, Jyotsnaa was thrilled when she was given the chance to participate in a Chinese song and rap performance at the Beijing Arts Festival. The 12-year-old girl and her mother set off for Beijing on 18 January, expecting to immerse themselves in a week of culture and art in the heart of China. In addition to her performance, Jyotsnaa was also looking forward to visiting the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City.

Although they were aware of a new virus that was emerging in China, it was largely contained to the city of Wuhan then. They did not expect the situation to escalate so quickly.

“In the last few days of our trip, things got more serious,” Jyotsnaa recalled. “We started seeing people wearing masks on the streets in Beijing. We also heard about the lockdown in Wuhan.”

The Jayashankers returned to a Singapore that was abuzz with news of the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) as Singapore had just recorded its first imported case. The following day, Jyotsnaa received a call from the Year Head of Xinmin Primary School and found out that she would have to go on Leave of Absence for fourteen days.

Because Jyotsnaa had left Singapore earlier, she would miss three weeks of lessons in all.

“I was rather upset at first,” she said. “After all, this is my PSLE year and three weeks seemed like a lot that I would have to catch up on!”

Support can come in many forms

However, Jyotsnaa was not the only who was worried about her situation. Her teachers and friends were also quick to show their concern.

In fact, one of her teachers, Mr Edwin Pang, contacted Jyotsnaa’s mother even before they had returned to Singapore.

“I heard that she was in China for a performance, and wanted to check if they were doing ok,” Mr Pang said. “Although I am not teaching Jyotsnaa this year, she was my student. I wanted to know if they were facing any difficulties in China.”

Other teachers also offered their support by calling to check on her, and sending her learning materials on the Student Learning Space (SLS) learning portal. They also responded to her questions about the work she had and sent feedback over email. Jyotsnaa soon found herself well-occupied with her revision and assignments at home.

Jyotsnaa with her caring teachersJyotsnaa with her caring teachers, Mr Pang and Mdm Noor Hafizah.

Besides her teachers, Jyotsnaa’s classmates also tried to think of how they could help.

“I actually thought that Jyotsnaa is strong and healthy and wouldn’t be affected by the virus,” Jia Qian, one of her classmates, said. “I was more worried about how she would cope with her schoolwork when she had to be away for so long.”

Jia Qian tried to help by sending detailed updates about homework on Whatsapp.

“She was really thorough when she updated me about what was going on in class,” Jyotsnaa recalled. Spreading her forefinger and thumb wide apart, she said, “In fact, her messages were this long!”

Jyotsnaa and her friends

Jyotsnaa felt really fortunate to have a supportive group of friends during her absence.

Another friend, Jia En, made sure Jyotsnaa was informed about what was going on in her CCA, the school’s Guzheng Ensemble. This was very important to Jyotsnaa, as her CCA would be participating in the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) in April.

For Xue Yi, showing concern was as simple as calling and talking to Jyotsnaa about her day.

“I thought that it would be lonely staying at home all day,” Xue Yi said. “I thought I could try to entertain her by calling her every now and then.”

To Jyotsnaa, these small acts from her friends made a world of difference.

“Not everyone would take the initiative to contact someone who is away. It meant a great deal to me that they actually reached out to me. It really cheered me up.”

Moving past the setback

Despite the daily revision and time spent on her studies, Jyotsnaa initally felt overwhelmed when she was finally able to return to school on 10 February.

Although she was glad to see her friends again, she had to go through the assignments from the previous weeks on top of managing new work that was coming in. Luckily, her teachers were understanding and gave her more time for her assignments. They also made time to see her after class to clarify her doubts. With their help, Jyotsnaa managed to catch up and adjust back to school life.

Looking back at her experience, Jyotsnaa felt that she has been really fortunate.

“I learnt that my teachers are all here to back me up when something unexpected happens,” she reflected. “I think that’s something that Singapore is good at – we overcome difficult times together.”

On the rising number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, Jyotsnaa admitted that she is a little worried. However, she is not only thinking about herself.

Jyotsnaa is also concerned about the new friends she met during her trip to Beijing. She remembers fondly the warm welcome she was given, and how her friends invited her and her mother to join their family for the reunion dinner.

“I am not Chinese, but they treated us like family,” she shared earnestly. “I really think that people should not criticise and blame China for the outbreak of this virus – no one wanted it to happen. I hope people also see the efforts of those who are fighting the virus over there as well!”


To read more on how our schools have helped students catch up with their studies despite being placed on LOA, click here. 

For stories on how our schools have tried to impart the value of empathy, click here for a story from Principal and former Discipline master Benjamin Kwok, or here for story on how Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School got their students to look at Home-Based Learning from the lens of the underprivileged.