The Church of Divine Mercy, Penang (CDM) celebrated Catechetical Sunday on the 31st January by beginning catechism for Std 1 to Form 5 classes on-line. The classes all began after Fr Michael Raymond OFM Cap, parish priest of CDM asked faith sharers to declare their commitment and commissioned them at the end of the Sunday morning mass. The planning of this event began towards the end of 2020 when the numbers of Covid 19 infection in Penang were decreasing. The core team of the Catechists led by Ken Lee organized a meeting to affirm that catechism classes would resume in early 2021 when the schools re-admitted students. In any event three scenarios were planned. The first is when there are no restrictions on numbers of attendance in church imposed, the second when limited numbers were allowed and lastly when there was a full lockdown. SOPs were discussed and finalized. Classrooms in church were visited and seating arrangements planned with due social distancing measures. This also included movement control at the beginning and at the end of classes with pickup procedures by parents to ensure best practices of social distancing given by government health guidelines.
As 2021 came upon us, the second wave of the mutated virus emerged and it was evident that scenario three was the only alternative available. A meeting with teachers was carried out and they agreed that catechism classes should resume online. Fr Michael decided that the Pre-school class was to be suspended temporarily due to difficulties imposed on parents sustaining their children’s interest. A system for registration was worked out to update class registers and parents given a dateline for submission. In addition, tutorials were planned for teachers to be familiar to the different platforms available for online teaching. Most opted for zoom as CDM had recently subscribed to Zoom Pro with unlimited time restrictions. Parents were also asked to give their thoughts and suggestions on face-to-face interactions once the MCO is lifted and children are allowed to return to church for catechism.
Many classes began at 11am, which was the previous time allocated for catechism before the pandemic. However, some teachers scheduled classes later to accommodate those families with more than one child attending catechism and sharing the same computer facilities at home. There were some hiccups as some students were not familiar with the on-line platform. They experienced no audio, some did not turn on their video and others used the chat in some distracting ways. But in general, the event was an encouraging success as the overall attendance was over 80%. This was better than most attendances in the pre-pandemic times. This event even prompted an inquiry from a grandparent with grand children overseas to ask if they could register for catechism on-line at CDM.
A most significant benefit derived from this mode of teaching was that for the first time, many parents had to sit in on classes with their children. This brought some to realize the depth of knowledge and understanding of their own faith and that of their children. CDM had always encouraged parents to come and sit in on classes but with limited success in the past. Now this pandemic had forced the parents to sit by side with their children throughout the instruction and appreciate the efforts put in by the teachers. It also put some pressure on teachers to prepare well for their lessons and served a taxing time for older faith sharers to sit and stare at a small screen for an hour. But some teachers complimented the parents for helping them in classroom management and monitoring restroom breaks. It was generally observed that the 40 mins of limited zoom time is not sufficient to cover a lesson due to house keeping matters and for large numbers of students interacting. As some parents have expressed their reluctance to send their children to class even after the lockdown has been lifted, on-line lessons would have to be continued. It also proved challenging for teachers to provide answers to some innocent but relevant faith questions during the lesson. It was related that a Std 3 child had asked “How do I know God is real?”. With parents looking on in the midst of the pandemic, this was so difficult to provide a meaningful answer to the level of a eight year old.
Fr Michael had sent an inspiring message to all the teachers before the commencement of classes and thanking them for their continued commitment and dedication in guiding the children on their faith journey. With another 26 lessons planned for the year, it will certainly be a challenge to sustain interest in the lessons to come. But all is left in the hands of the Lord and as all in CDM will attest “Jesus, I Trust in You.”
Dr Ivan Filmer
1st February, 2021.