THICK haze shrouded Penang Hill yesterday. The imposing peak had vanished from sight.
I could not see the iconic Kek Lok Si Temple and its towering Goddess of Mercy statue either, from the balcony of my condominium unit in Bandar Baru Air Itam.
A check at the Education Ministry website did not indicate that schools in Penang would be closed due to the smog.
Before sending my daughter to school for the afternoon session on Wednesday, I checked the website and the social media again to see whether there was any last-minute announcement of school closure.
In the car, my wife grumbled that schools in other states were closed occasionally, but it had only been done twice in Penang.
“The haze is so bad today, with a burning smell. Something must be wrong with the Air Pollution Index reading,” she fumed.
A day earlier, she had posted a suggestion on the Ministry website, that schools in Penang be closed for health reasons.
As we reached Convent Light Street at 1.05pm, the Rela guard came up to the car and made some hand gestures. We were then told the school was closed.
It was a shock. We couldn’t believe this was happening in the era of social media, where information is disseminated in a jiffy. Why were we informed at the last minute?
This was the question asked by thousands of other parents who have school-going children in the afternoon session.
If the state Education Department had made the announcement at 11am, then many with a smartphone would have known about the closure in, say, 30 minutes.
The media would have announced it in their online reports. The message would have gone viral with parents forwarding it to others.
It is worse for parents who send their children to school by school van or bus. Many pupils were already in school when the announcement was made about 1pm.
Some kids were lucky as their parents or relatives came to pick them up later. But some parents who were working were unable to do so.
Their children were kept in school till evening but there were no lessons. Pity the teachers, since many of them could not go back home as they had to keep an eye on the kids.
Parents of the 95 affected schools in Penang are seething with anger.
To be fair, it would not have been easy for the state Education director, Shaari Osman, to make a decision on school closure as he probably had to follow standard operating procedure, including getting approval from the ministry.
He was quoted in The Star as saying that he decided at about 11.30am to suspend the afternoon session when the API neared 150. The department then began faxing out the directive to schools.
At my daughter’s school, the announcement was made via the public address system at 12.45pm. Teachers also went around to inform parents who were still in the school compound.
The media only knew about the closure when irate parents began calling them.
Pity the canteen operators too. They would have prepared much food, only to see it wasted. Who is going to compensate them?
Parents are hoping the department would take some lessons from this episode. There should not be a recurrence.