CCA and Covid-19: How the New Normal Has Impacted Our Holistic Journey

This was written in collaboration with EJC Press as part of Issue 3 of Cross Island Impressions, an inter-JC Press collaboration. You can read Issue 3 here.

By Mirella Ang (22A01C; RI), Shermaine Lim (22S03N; RI), Joshua Tan (21-12; EJC), and Zexel Lim (21-E2; EJC)

COVID-19 has impacted us in many ways. It has affected the way we live, the way we feel and think, and the way we communicate. Schools have been shut down across the world, and the education system had to be reformed in order to suit the ‘new normal’. The reopening of schools in Singapore has prompted many of us to wonder: how has COVID-19 impacted our school lives? In this article, we seek to understand and answer the questions of why different facets of our extracurriculars system have been affected by COVID-19, and what students are doing to cope with such drastic changes. We also want to examine CCA activities through the lens of the most popular CCA categories, namely Sports, the Visual Performing Arts, Clubs and Societies and Uniform Groups (UGs). 

Forms response chart. Question title: What CCA group are you in?. Number of responses: 103 responses.
The distribution of our respondents’ CCAs across schools in Singapore. 

Sports 

For many athletes, the situation was not pretty—they missed out on the National School Games (NSG), overseas trips, and other competitions. One student from Anderson Serangoon Junior College wrote “A DIVS ;-; INTER SCH COMPS. OVERSEAS TRIPS.” when asked about lost opportunities their team faced. As a matter of fact, of the 24 sports respondents, only 25% felt that they had not missed very much during the pandemic, while the other 75% seemed quite disappointed and regretful that they were not able to compete. 

Furthermore, training sessions for the respective sports had to be modified in order to comply with Safe-Management Measures (SMM) as set by MOE. However, it is interesting to note that different CCAs have been affected differently by the pandemic, and this proposition holds true even within the smaller umbrella term of “sports”. The impact for certain sports has evolved over time, especially with the recent easing of restrictions on the number of individuals allowed per group. For full-contact sports such as Judo and Taekwondo, the athletes had to resort to practising shadow throws on sandbag dummies dressed in gi (the traditional uniform worn by the athletes), mimicking as best as possible how sparring with an actual opponent would be like. For other ball sports such as squash, players are currently assigned to courts and no intermingling is allowed. The rules on intermingling has eased over time, with CCAs such as Tennis now allowing more intermingling between players, such as playing doubles matches instead of just singles matches in the past. However, as of 8th May 2021, in light of the surge of local community Covid-19 cases here in Singapore, measures have gone back to square one, with no intermingling allowed for the safety of the players.

Other athletes lamented the loss of team spirit and cohesion within their respective teams due to an inability to meet up and have team bonding sessions. To make up for this, they advocated for more team lunches and dinners and pushed for better orientation periods. One J2 was rueful that they’d spent little to no time at all with their graduated seniors and hoped that things would turn out differently with their J1 juniors this year. Still others simply wanted regulated rotations of the members of each smaller group to get to know more of their teammates better behind the mask. 

Forms response chart. Question title: How satisfied are you with the newly adapted training?. Number of responses: 24 responses.
A breakdown of how satisfied the student athletes were with their SMM-compliant training.

However, when asked how satisfied they were with the way training sessions were adapted in the new normal, a large majority of the athletes rated them as 4.5 points out of 5. Despite missing out on so much of what makes a sport meaningful and worthy to them, these athletes still managed to find the fun in what they do and look on the bright side of things. 

This year, the National School Games (NSGs) were set to return, albeit in a slightly less enthusiastic way than it had before. Only 12 of the usual 29 sports were permitted to compete: badminton, volleyball, bowling, gymnastics, rope-skipping, golf, sepak takraw, table tennis, taekwondo, shooting, tennis and wushu. That is, until May, when community cases started to rise yet again, and the NSGs were cancelled (postponed) for a second year in a row. The excitement that had been building up in many of these athletes was abruptly subdued with the news, and they were disappointed that the effort they put into training for the matches would simply go to waste. Although they understood the necessity of the measures, they could not help but feel a sense of déjà vu—which brought a wave of nostalgia of playing with their seniors pre-Covid. One table-tennis athlete from RI said, “Ultimately, the NSG is an avenue for us to create memories and relationships with our teammates. We were looking forward to forging many more fun-filled memories during the season, but sadly it may not come to pass :(“

Visual Performing Arts 

The artistes of the school populations did not seem to fare very much better as the SMM implemented meant the closing of large groups of students such as musicians, dancers, actors, and more. During the initial months of the pandemic, these artistes were wholly unable to come together to practice—some could not even practice on their own, what with their instruments being locked up in school. Online concerts were planned, and then discarded, resulting in many performers’ CCA lives ending entirely too abruptly. Art and photography exhibitions were forced to shift online. For the graduating batch, it was an extremely disappointing finale. An anonymous respondent mentioned, “We really hoped to at least do something before we left, but sadly that didn’t happen. It’s like we just disappeared one day and never came back.” 

RGS Symphonic Band’s Batch of 2020, playing Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 during the Circuit Breaker in May 2020.

This year, the Singapore Youth Festival has been relaunched—complying with SMM, of course. Flexi-groups were created and each school has multiple performances for each CCA. One senior remarked that this arrangement completely changed the game: seniors and juniors were separated, meaning that the less-experienced juniors became more and more demoralised with every mistake made, lowering the standard of the group as a whole. The survey revealed that 80% of the respondents found the senior-junior segregation “terrible, and a big disappointment.” Furthermore, a respondent admitted that they “were no longer as dedicated to go for CCA because it’s just not fun anymore.

Others felt that despite their respective CCA ExCos doing their best to come up with virtual replacements for their activities, like online inter-school exchanges or Zoom bonding sessions, there simply is no alternative for an in-person atmosphere. Compared to the camps of previous years, the pandemic-affected camps were just not on par. Touring and international performances or exhibitions were also rendered impossible. 

Forms response chart. Question title: How satisfied are you with the newly adapted training?. Number of responses: 30 responses.
A breakdown of how satisfied the student artistes were with their SMM-controlled practises.

At the end of the day, 86% of the student artists rated the new modes of training as 3.5 points out of 5. It has not been easy at all for them to adapt to the pandemic, and the loss of their ability to do what they love—performing and showcasing their skills—has definitely had a detrimental impact on their CCA journeys. 

Clubs and Societies 

General Meetings are the norm for CCAs from Clubs and Societies. A popular opinion is that this genre of CCA is the least affected of all CCAs, but that is not true as these CCAs are obliged to obey numerous guidelines to ensure the well-being of their members.

In view of COVID-19, Safe Management Measures (SMM) have been implemented to ensure minimal spread of the virus during CCA activities. One such measure is hosting CCA meetings at multiple venues. Stricter measures designate permanent seatings with a metre gap between every seat for CCA members. Some CCAs also utilise video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. There are also standard protocols such as wipe down and staggered dismissals to minimise any risks of viral transmission.

Pressing Ahead 2021, an inter-JC conference helmed by Raffles Press, taking place over Zoom.

These restrictions do not just end here. CCAs with outdoor activities such as the Outdoor Adventure and Activities Club (ODAC) have to modify their training to a greater extent. The organisation of camps is not allowed, which means that lessons taught in camps have to take place in ordinary CCA training settings. Another guideline these CCAs have to adhere to is to restrict outdoor activities outside of the college. CCAs can only be conducted within the college campus while treks and hikes in public nature areas can no longer be conducted until further notice. These restrictions unfortunately hinder the full enjoyment of the CCA experience one. Despite all that, more than half of the respondents are satisfied with their newly adapted training.

Forms response chart. Question title: How has the senior-junior segregation been affected by COVID-19?. Number of responses: 47 responses.
A diagram showing how student members feel about not being able to interact with their club mates.

COVID-19 has unfortunately caused some senior-junior segregation in Clubs and Societies. The use of multiple venues to conduct CCA meetings prevented juniors from interacting with all their seniors, albeit nearly half of respondents suggest that the segregation is not very severe.

Forms response chart. Question title: How satisfied are you with the newly adapted training?. Number of responses: 47 responses.
A breakdown of how satisfied the student members were with their SMM-altered sessions. 

A majority of the respondents wish that more intermingling was permitted to close the gap between seniors and juniors, although that is unfortunately not possible due to the pandemic. However, interaction on virtual platforms could be a possible way to bridge the gap. For outdoor clubs and societies, many feel that CCA sessions could be used as bonding sessions between seniors and juniors until outdoor activities are made available again.

Uniform Groups

Uniform Group CCAs also have a similar approach to clubs and societies, with respondents stating that it is not possible to do any activity as one CCA. Uniformed Groups CCAs tend to have different activities allocated for different members, with SMM implemented. 

Generally, those in UG CCAs are rather satisfied with their modified CCA training. For such CCAs, there is little segregation between juniors and seniors as both parties still train together during their CCA training. 

In the past, UG CCAs went to various venues outside of school to deliver talks to various audiences about their CCA. However, virtual alternatives such as creating infographics are now used. Camps and large scale events are not allowed as these activities do not adhere to SMM.

Opinion 

Forms response chart. Question title: Are there any opportunities missed due to COVID-19?. Number of responses: 47 responses.
A pie chart depicting the overall impact the pandemic has had on students’ CCA journeys. 

Regarding the changes in our CCA experience, it is over-idealistic to expect all students to fully embrace the extent of disruption in their CCA lives. For many, this ‘discounted’ experience has forced the forfeiture of fulfilling opportunities of growth and experience. Defining experiences have been tweaked to adhere to the stringent SMM regulations, which inevitably cheapens its impact on all students. However, the painful truth of our reality is that all students, no matter how determined, have no choice but to accept these changes. COVID-19 was an unprecedented adversity that has shaken the world in many different aspects, the extent of which is catastrophic. At a time where our economy and global health is failing, it seems almost frivolous to revolt against these necessary changes in school policy, especially when these policies are put into place for our protection. As a society, our utmost duty would be to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and on an individual level, this involves adhering to all SMM runs, regardless of cost. It seems as if our way of adapting to these changes are less of an eager embrace of our circumstance, and more like a grudging acceptance of defeat against these extenuating circumstances. 

In the midst of our misfortune, what exactly can we do besides merely accepting our fate? Are we doomed to a lacklustre school life for another year? Maybe not. 

The truth of our circumstance is that we have no say whatsoever in this—which may seem bleak, but is actually a hidden blessing. With the vast changes brought about by COVID-19, a lot of our CCAs are reconstructing our sessions and plans. In a sense, we are starting anew with a blank canvas, with experiences unique to our batches. We get to decide what type of CCA culture and experiences we want, because at the end of the day, we are the ones who choose how much we gain from our CCA lives. We can choose to brood in misery and dwell in our misfortune, or we can embrace the changes and establish new cultures, new traditions and new practices in our CCAs. We have full autonomy over how much we benefit from our experiences, so why not choose to maximise our fulfilment?

After all, can we really afford to lose any more precious learning opportunities? We are blessed to be allowed to continue going to school, much less attend our regular CCA sessions. We are unique because of our defining experience of living through a pandemic. And in the future when we recount these exciting memories, do we really want to be known as the ‘unlucky’ batch? Or do we want to be known as the batch that rose above and went beyond to adapt and embrace these drastic changes?

Let our legacy be one of a batch that has thrived in spite of COVID-19, a batch that took charge of their extracurricular journeys and made them something worthwhile. Let us truly enjoy and embrace our modified CCA sessions, if not in genuine acceptance then in protest against the detriment of COVID-19. We deserve meaningful CCA journeys, but only if we choose to make meaning out of our experiences. The choice to reclaim our lives from COVID-19 is in our hands, because our CCA lives do not deserve to be defined by a pandemic. 

Conclusion 

It is inevitable that COVID-19 will bring about changes in our school lives, but ultimately, it is up to the individual and the community to make the most out of the current situation. CCAs are a great way to enhance our school lives, as they allow for interaction, team-bonding activities and meaningful relationships to be formed. Furthermore, COVID-19  can bring about learning experiences that might not have been as accentuated as compared to that of pre-COVID times, such as cultivating gratitude towards the opportunity to come to school everyday to interact with one’s friends, and to have reasonable national tranquility amidst these troubling times. Such values and mindsets are a fantastic way to maximise our school lives and to bring about joy in whatever we do, despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19  on sports, performing arts groups, clubs and societies and uniform groups.

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