Singapore – Minister for Education, Ong Ye Kung, took to Facebook to explain why schools are reopening on Monday (Mar 23), stating three points of consideration based on science, disruption and precautions.
Mr Ong has been receiving requests and suggestions from parents to extend the March holidays and postpone the reopening of schools given the rising numbers of imported Covid-19 cases and movement restrictions. Meanwhile, “others, including students, urged the Ministry of Education to keep schools open as they would like to go to school,” said Mr Ong.
On top of personally replying to many of the concerned parents, he laid out a 677-word-rationale for the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) stance on why schools are reopening on schedule.
The young are more resilient
The first consideration he pointed out was based on science, saying that there is “a body of scientific evidence showing that Covid-19 does not affect the young” as much as adults. He added that the young have not been proven to be vectors or spreaders of the virus. “The reverse appears to be the case, where the young get infected by adults at home,” said Mr Ong, citing Group Director of Medicine at NUHS (National University Health System), Professor Dale Fisher.
Mr Ong noted that it “may not be a bad idea” for children to spend the bulk of their time in school with classmates who are also less susceptible to the virus. There is a risk that many would not stay at home and expose themselves to a risk of contamination if schools remained closed, said the minister.
“In that sense, schools remain safe places for children, especially as they seem to be more resilient against the virus.”
A disruption of many lives
Mr Ong wrote that the closure of schools “will disrupt many lives,” especially families with both parents working and have limited childcare options. The MOE is concerned about the parents working at the frontlines as healthcare workers and providers of essential services.
As a robust healthcare system is paramount in fighting Covid-19, “Our frontline warriors will be much more assured if their children are in school, meaningfully engaged, in a safe and healthy environment,” said Mr Ong.
No place for complacency
Lastly, precautions. The MOE has consulted healthcare experts and has implemented additional precautionary measures to safeguard the entire system. A Leave of Absence/Stay Home Notice policy is in place to ensure that returning staff and students have not gone overseas since the start of the school holidays. Travel history will also be stringently checked at school gates, said Mr Ong.
Students would only be spending time in their classes and co-curricular activities (CCA). “All other activities that involve mingling have been suspended,” noted Mr Ong who added that CCA has been suspended for two weeks, which leaves only classes as the students’ social group.
Other precautionary measures to be implemented are safe distancing of students in classrooms, constant reminders of proper hand hygiene and checks for students feeling ill so they could be sent home or isolated.
“One reason for tougher border measures is to ensure we keep Singapore as safe as possible, so that daily activities, like going to work, eating out and attending school, can go on,” wrote Mr Ong.
Parents and other members of the public were understanding of Mr Ong’s explanation, although pointed out one loophole: the Stay Home Notice (SHN). Mabel Wee suggested for the SHN to be extended per household for the following reasons:
Many agreed and shared the same sentiments.
Seri Dewy, a healthcare worker, thanked the minister for making the difficult decision “in the face of mounting pressure” and hoped that in a few days, schools could prove their capability in handling the situation.
Another netizen commented that the decision to send their children to school or not rests on the parents. “I believe parents have a right to take their children out of school if they have no confidence in their children’s health being compromised – if you can afford it,” said Brenda Lan.
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