Sin Chew Daily
Our schools have remained shut for quite some time as a result of the ravaging pandemic. Students are forced to leave their school classrooms as they switch to online learning from their homes.
Earlier, the announcement by the education ministry that schools would reopen in September triggered tremendous public backlash. As a consequence, school reopening has been deferred and students will continue with their home learning.
Lately, education minister Mohd Radzi Md Jidin said schools would reopen on 3rd October, and again, it sparked an uproar.
The minister has said that students and teachers in states under the first phase of national recovery plan will not need to go back to their schools, while those in other states will be arranged to go back to school according to the different phases of the NRP. That said, given the still very challenging situation at this moment, reopening of schools needs to be handled with extreme care.
The strong backlash from parents doesn’t mean they are against school reopening. As a matter of fact, many of them realise that there is evident inadequacy in online learning. Even though the students continue to carry on with their studies at home during the pandemic, the effects are invariably compromised, which many parents do agree.
In reality, parents are not against sending their children back to school, but they are just worried about their children’s health at the height of the pandemic.
A very fundamental question: is the education ministry adequately prepared for it?
The reality is that there are still school workers, school bus drivers and others who have yet to be fully vaccinated. More shockingly, some of the teachers have asserted their refusal to get inoculated.
It has been reported that some 2,500 teachers have refused to be immunised on various reasons including health and lack of faith in the vaccines.
As the minister has said, unvaccinated teachers will not be allowed to come into direct contact with the students. They are not allowed to come into the classrooms even after schools reopen.
What is the education ministry going to do with these teachers, and will any arrangement made be rational and not result in a waste of our already constrained teaching resources?
Another issue is the need for more comprehensive SOPs and tightened monitoring at the schools.
Do bear in mind that most students have not yet been inoculated and there is still risk for them to get infected even if their teachers have been fully vaccinated, if they are made to go back to school again.
With almost 20k new cases reported every day, how do we expect the parents not to be worried?
There were school-related infection clusters when the schools last reopened, and we must do everything to stop this from happening again.
Take the numbers in Penang for example, the state reported a total of 5,290 positive COVID-19 cases involving children and students as of 1st August. Of these, 3,735 cases (70.6%) involved children below 12, and the remaining 1,555 cases (29.4%) involved teenagers between 13 and 18 of age.
This points to the fact that these students are extremely vulnerable in front of the coronavirus. We as adults have the obligation to ensure the safety and health of these future leaders of our country.
In short, parents are not wholly against classroom teaching, but they just want to be certain that their children’s health is assured.
The government must do its utmost to bring down the daily new infection numbers as soon as possible, while the education ministry must draw up effective anti-virus SOPs to reassure the parents that their children will have a safe learning environment at school.