In conjunction with the government’s decision to reopen schools in March, Unicef has released a report, Framework For Reopening Of Schools, with suggested guidelines to keep students and teachers safe during the pandemic.
Unicef believes that reopening schools in Malaysia is a good move but there needs to be a framework to safeguard the children’s health, education and future.
“School is a safe space for all children where they can access psychosocial support, nutrition as well as an education, and the longer children remain out of school, the greater the disruption of familiar patterns and impact on their education and mental health," says Unicef representative to Malaysia & Brunei Darussalam Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar.
“As such, Unicef welcomes and supports the decision to reopen schools in Malaysia, ” he says.
“Schools reopening will allow students to access necessary services, and to learn, connect and play with their friends again, ” says Rashed.
But there are certain criteria that need to be in place, he emphasises, in order for schools to be reopened effectively.
“Teachers and school personnel must be vaccinated against Covid-19, once frontline health workers and high-risk populations are vaccinated. This will protect not just the teachers but also their students from the virus, ” he says.
To ensure the safe operations of reopened schools, the Unicef report proposes:
> school openings to be progressive, beginning with areas having the lowest rates of Covid-19 transmission and lowest localised risk;
> school reopenings to be in stages, initially limited to a few days of the week, or only to certain grades/levels;
> having school in shifts to reduce class size;
> staggering the start and close of the school day and also feeding times;
> moving classes to temporary spaces or outdoors;
> protocols on physical distancing to be implemented, including prohibiting activities that require large gatherings;
> protocols on hygiene measures to be implemented, including hand-washing/sanitising, face mask wearing, good respiratory etiquette, cleaning procedures for school facilities and safe food preparation practices
And, while schools are still closed, teachers and school leaders must be provided with training on online learning and ways to support their students who are learning remotely. This can include creating peer groups on mobile platforms or providing phone credits to contact parents, the report states.
Policies should also protect staff, teachers and students who are high-risk due to age or underlying medical conditions, with plans to allow such teachers and students to continue remote education until such a time when the country is safe from Covid-19.
Once the schools reopen, not only do teachers and administrative staff need to be trained on the implementation of physical distancing and school hygiene practices, cleaning staff also must be trained on disinfection and be equipped with personal protection equipment. The intensity and frequency of cleaning and disinfection activities must be increased, and waste management practices improved.