EDUCATION: We can’t close schools forever

WITH the country recording 1,240 new cases on Monday (Oct 26), the highest daily Covid-19 infections to date, parents are anxious about sending their children to school.

From Sept 20 to Oct 21, a total of 1,257 primary and secondary students had been infected. Twelve schools were closed in that period alone.

While most parents, students and teachers prefer face-to-face learning, Education Minister Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin noted that parents from homes with good Internet connectivity are more comfortable with having their children learn from home.

A quick scroll through social media sites confirms it. Many parent groups have been abuzz with “stay home, stay safe” comments.

Such sentiments are understandable as most commenting are from households with decent Internet connectivity and access to devices for online learning.

But schools for the majority of the population are more than a place of learning. The school is a place where parents can leave their charges and not worry while they go and eke out a living.

Closing schools indiscriminately and indefinitely would cause economic and social hardships, especially on the middle and lower income groups.

Allowing schools, as a general rule, to remain open with strict standard operating procedures (SOPs), should not be seen as putting our children in harm’s way.

Radzi has assured parents that all 10,000 schools nationwide are monitored on a daily basis; students and teachers who tested positive for Covid-19 had contracted the virus outside their schools; and as of last week (Oct 20), there were no student-to-student infections in schools.

The reality is that we will have to continue living with Covid-19 for some time. It is inevitable that cases will fluctuate. Schools with positive cases; those in areas under the conditional MCO; and those in red zones with infections within the community; will be closed on the advice of the Health Ministry.

NGOs, namely the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia and Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education, have rightly pointed out that schools cannot be closed forever, while the National Union of the Teaching Profession has described closing as merely a circuit breaker to control the spread of the virus.

In battling the pandemic, parents themselves must step up and educate their children about the SOPs.

The responsibility of keeping their children safe cannot rest solely on the shoulders of teachers, schools and the government.

If your child is sick, keep him or her home. If you feel that it is not safe to send your child to school, don’t.

In July, the Education Ministry said it was up to parents not to send their children to school if they were worried about the pandemic, but a letter notifying the school of the decision was needed. Some schools have even prepared the letters for parents to sign.

And while we cannot expect schools to close indefinitely, we can hope for tighter SOPs, a more efficient crisis management plan, and better communication from the Education Ministry.

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