Mixed reactions over how much longer schools should be shut

Trying times: A file photo of parents dropping off students at a school in Kuala Lumpur. While some believe schools must go on, some parents want more measures to be taken first. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: More than 1,000 Malaysian schoolchildren have been infected by Covid-19 since the third wave of the outbreak began last month and there seem to be differing views from stakeholders as to whether schools should be shut down longer.

Most parents are not in favour of schools being closed for a long period and instead ask that children be taught necessary precautions.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said schools should reopen but with stricter standard operating procedure (SOP).

As possible solutions, she said the Education Ministry could look into having students attend schools in alternate weeks.

“The ministry should also review past options and tighten the SOP further.

“It might be a great inconvenience but at least learning continues,” she added.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education Mak Chee Kin said the country cannot afford to close all schools once again as the implications will be severe.

Additionally, the government must not force parents to send their children to school if they feel it is still unsafe to do so, he added.

“The onus is not just on teachers but everyone must do their part in following the SOP.”

National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Harry Tan, however, said the closing of schools in affected areas controls the spread of the virus and is a “circuit breaker”.

Learning is not limited to the four walls of the classroom and can be done anywhere, he said.

He said the government should, however, consider making it compulsory for students to wear masks in schools and provide measures to help those who cannot afford masks to reduce the transmission rate of the virus.

“Teachers play an important role in schools but they must be given unambiguous and doable instructions to be disseminated,” he said.

“Most of them wear masks in classrooms and are on duty during recess to monitor whether students are following the SOP.

“At the end of the day, it boils down to parents’ and teachers’ mindset and ingenuity to conduct remote learning,” he added.

Parent Priya Krishnan, 40, said schools could split classes into half, reduce the number of days schoolchildren attend school, give parents the option of whether they want to send their children to school and only teach core subjects along with art, and Physical and Health Education.

“We cannot constantly be under lockdown and we must think of new and rational ways to cope with the pandemic.

“We must take children’s mental health into consideration as well as not every family has the same privilege to hire home tutors to help their children cope with the curriculum,” said the mother-of-two.

Fong Yit Meng, 37, believes schools must revolutionise the way it functions and upskill its teachers to adapt to the new normal as Covid-19 may not be the last pandemic the world will endure.

“Schools must be able to provide continuous learning to students in the event of another pandemic like this.

“The Education Ministry and the government should be more swift in their responsiveness and decisiveness in protecting students’ safety.

“Disaster management plans are important and schools should look into this seriously,” said the father of a Year One pupil.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said that when the outbreak started in February, Covid-19 infected 830 children in primary schools and 1,315 secondary students.

He also said from Sept 20 to Oct 21, 587 cases involved primary school pupils aged between seven and 12, and 670 cases involved secondary school students aged between 13 and 18.

Since Sept 20, the government had directed 12 schools in the country to be closed following the detection of Covid-19 cases in those schools, while all schools in more critical states were closed for a few weeks.

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