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Ong Ye Kung urges parents against keeping their kids out of school as circuit breaker ends

Mr Ong said that keeping children away from school "does not guarantee that they will be safe from COVID-19" since children can be exposed to the virus through family members who go to work

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While some parents are keeping their children home despite the reopening of schools, due to fears over the risk of COVID-19 transmission, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has asserted that keeping students home for long will impact their development.

Singapore was under a lockdown-style circuit breaker for the past two months, during which residents were asked to stay home as much as possible to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections. The MOE, which initially allowed students to do home-based learning, brought the mid-year school holidays – that typically takes place over the month of June – forward to the month of May.

As the circuit breaker came to an end on 1 June, schools also reopened. Students in graduating cohorts like those in Primary 6 are required to attend school every day. Students in the remaining grades will take turns under a rotation scheme to go to school on certain weeks and complete home-based learning (HBL) in the remaining weeks. All students are expected to return to school full-time in about four weeks time.

Despite the end of the circuit breaker, some parents are against sending their children back to school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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In a Facebook post published on Tuesday (2 June), the first day that schools reopened after the term break, Mr Ong said: “While Home-Based Learning kept learning going during the Circuit Breaker (CB) it cannot replace schools and classrooms, and the face to face (or mask to mask) interactions with classmates and teachers.”

Revealing that he visited Xingnan Primary and shared that every student and every teacher he met told him that they were excited to be back at school, the Minister asserted: “COVID-19 will be with us for some time – a year or two, maybe more, until there is a vaccine widely available.”

“We can’t keep our kids at home for so long. It will severely impact their socio-emotional wellbeing and their whole person development. As we carefully reopen the economy and parents have to go back to work, they need to have peace of mind that their children can study in a safe and orderly school environment.”

This is not the first time Mr Ong has made such remarks. On 22 May, he said, “As parents, we can sometimes forget that to our children, while studying and doing well is important, equally important is their socio-emotional well-being, and being able to interact face to face with friends, and also with teachers.

“Also, while HBL taught us how we can use technology to facilitate learning, it cannot totally replace a physical class.”

A day before this, Mr Ong said that one of the top questions he has received on the reopening of schools is the question of whether parents who don’t feel safe sending their children to school can have their children undergo HBL instead.

The Minister said, then: “We will do our utmost to keep schools safe. We have a holistic system of safe management, comprising health screening for everyone entering the school, cohortisation of students, good hygiene practices and safe distancing.

“But unless there are specific concerns arising from medical conditions, we cannot make attending school voluntary.”

Asserting that COVID-19 is expected to stay with Singapore for quite some time, Mr Ong added: “We simply cannot keep our children at home for so long. The impact on their socio-emotional and mental well-being will be serious. Having brought community transmission to a low and controlled level, we should resume school, reclaim a sense of normalcy, while taking many precautions.”

He also said that making school attendance voluntary is “not good for the morale of both students and teachers” and that it “segregates students into those whose families are able to provide care at home, and those who can’t.” The Minister said that it is also unsustainable to have teachers juggle between classroom teaching and facilitating HBL.

Mr Ong added that keeping children away from school “does not guarantee that they will be safe from COVID-19” since children can be exposed to COVID-19 transmission through family members who go to work. He said:

“Many countries have realised that school cannot be closed indefinitely, and are making plans to re-open theirs – even though their number of community cases is much higher than Singapore’s. By working together, exercising personal responsibility, plus maintaining high levels of personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness, our children can return to school in a safe manner.”

In his most recent social media post, the ruling party politician made a similar call for all Singapore residents must work together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. He said: “The onus is now on all of us, to take care of our personal hygiene, be socially conscious, and work together. If there is a COVID-19 infection around us, respond quickly and calmly to contain it. That way, we can progressively reclaim our lives, freedom and future.”

It’s back to school for Term 3 for many students today. I paid a visit to Xingnan Primary this morning. It registered a…

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