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Education Minister: Schools kept open for as long as possible

With the need for a national "circuit breaker", it is now time to move to full home-based learning

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– Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung has explained why schools are being closed only now (from Wednesday, April 8) even though there have been numerous requests to do so in the past from various people as the number of confirmed Covid-19 continued to rise.

Following Hsien Loong’s speech on Friday (April 3) to announce more  stringent “circuit breaker” measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Ong shared the reasons for the closure during the press conference of the multi-ministry task force on the Covid-19 crisis.

“If the virus behaved more like influenza, affecting more and making children the vectors for transmission, we would have closed schools long ago,” Mr Ong said. “But Covid-19, because of the way it behaves, it gives us the option of keeping schools open, provided there are stringent precautionary measures, and that has been what we are doing.”

He added that the authorities were able to prevent significant disruption to people’s lives, especially frontline healthcare workers, by keeping schools open. The chances of students mingling around the because schools were closed and thus exposing themselves to more risk were also avoided.

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“So keeping schools open, keeping it safe with precautionary measures has been a plus in this fight against the virus.”

Mr Ong noted that there had been zero cases of transmission from schools based on statistics. “Our track record in keeping schools safe has not been too bad.”

Amid the requests and petitions from parents and concerned individuals to close schools, the minister explained that schools could be kept safe and open. However, he always mentioned that they were not ruling out the possibility of 100 per cent home-based learning (HBL). “If we do (implement such measures), it must be done at the right time for the right reason.”

The Ministry of Education conducted a one-day test of HBL across all levels in the past week and this allowed it to address technical glitches and other issues with the system. The ministry provided more than 4,000 devices and WiFi dongles for students without the capacity to learn at home. Children of frontline workers were also allowed to obtain their learning at school, within a safe .

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“With the need to implement a national ‘circuit breaker’, it is now time, and with the right reason, for us to move to full HBL for schools,” said Mr Ong. He added that Monday (April 6) and Tuesday (April 7) would be spent to sort out the remaining administrative and technical issues for a seamless transition to HBL. The shift is set to last from April 8 to May 4.

Mr Ong explained why now is the right time to close schools. In response to the more stringent measures against the spread of Covid-19, the ministry is confident it can continue to cover the curriculum properly through HBL. Based on its assessment, “there is no need for us to claw back from (the) June holidays”, Mr Ong added.

“With the new measures, most students are required to stay at home so there’s also less worry that students would roam around in the community,” said Mr Ong. He added that the disruptions on people’s lives would be manageable given the increase in telecommuting for parents and workers. Schools would also remain open for those who need support.

Regarding exams, Mr Ong has cancelled all mid-year examinations. National exams, including the mid-year GCE O-Level and A-Level Mother Tongue Language examinations in June, year-end examinations and Primary School Leaving Examinations, will still proceed as these are considered essential. Proper precautions would be implemented during the exams.

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Mr Ong ended his statement with the call to “stay safe, stay home, stay curious”.

Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Curious

As we move towards very high safe distancing measures, schools and IHLs will transit to full home-based learning. It is the right time to do this, with the right reason. To all students, remember – Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Curious.You can also watch my full remarks here: https://www.facebook.com/ChannelNewsAsia/videos/1297130770497924/

Posted by Ong Ye Kung on Friday, 3 April 2020

Read related:

Ong Ye Kung says schools are safe places for children, but many parents are still pushing back

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