Schools Reopening: Education Minister Addresses Top Concerns By Parents, Educators
"The impact on their socio-emotional and mental well-being will be serious" said the Minister, in keeping children at home for long periods of time.
Following the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s announcement on 19 May that Singapore schools will reopen on 2 June 2020, as Singapore exits Circuit Breaker, there has been a wave of sentiments and concerns by parents, families and educators alike.
On MOE’s Facebook Live session of ‘Ask Me Anything About Transitioning Back to School’ on 21 May, panellists shared some of the concerns brought up, in consideration of polls submitted by the public.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has also spoken up to address these concerns in his Facebook post.
From the discomfort and feasibility of young children wearing masks for the entire day in school, worries over finding alternative childcare arrangements due to weekly rotation of school, and risk of contracting COVID-19 among other concerns, he answers to the top three queries from the public.
Minister Addresses School Reopening Top Concerns
1. My young child has problems wearing a mask for the whole day. Is there an alternative?
What parents are saying:
Facebook user Leanne Yong and mum of a hearing-impaired child in preschool, suggest the wearing of face shields rather than face masks as her child could struggle to hear due to the “muffled” speech from others wearing masks. It will also allow her child to “have access to visual lip-reading cues” when unable to hear clearly.
There are also comments on how children are having problems getting used to wearing masks, and frequently touching their faces due to discomfort.
Even with providing alternatives such as a face shield, there are concerns over its effectiveness to “reducing transmission of ANY respiratory disease”, according to a doctor Tan Mary.
According to Mr Ong, students can wear a face shield if the usual face mask is uncomfortable for them. Here’s what to expect:
- All preschool and primary school students will receive face shields in Term 3 from their schools
- Teachers to help young children adapt to using their masks or shields
- In special circumstances, teachers will exercise flexibility
2. I have to return to work on 2 June. How do I plan for childcare arrangements if my child goes to school on alternate weeks?
What parents are saying:
Teachers with school-going children such as Chen Sheue Ling wrote that she has “no access to this flexi-work option” of working from home. And this is made tougher with the arrangement of children alternate coming to school (depending on their level).
It also poses a dilemma for other working mothers like Jasmine Cheh, worried about the potential risk of infection when her children face long hours outdoors, without student care arrangements.
According to Mr Ong, companies should allow employees to telecommute to the maximum extent possible. And hopefully, this could help them better work out suitable childcare arrangements.
Parents/families unable to do so can approach their child’s school for assistance. While schools are unable to provide childcare arrangements, young students on Home-based Learning (HBL) can still get “limited care”.
3. I don’t feel safe sending my child to school. Can he do HBL instead?
One of the many schools reopening top concerns by parents and educators is with HBL.
What parents are saying:
Some parents have expressed their concerns over the reopening of schools, stating that there is no pressure or hurry, especially when it comes to the well-being of their children.
As much as some parents still struggle with working from home while facilitating their child’s learning, mum Linda Tan wrote that she feels “more comfortable” sticking with HBL.
With the exception of specific concerns arising from medical conditions, Mr Ong highlights key reasons why attending school cannot be made voluntary:
- The serious impact on children’s socio-emotional and mental well-being from staying at home for long periods of time
According to him, COVID-19 is likely to persist for more than a year and that is until a vaccine is available. Resuming school would allow the easing back into normal life, especially with the low community transmission observed thus far.
- Affects the morale of both students and teachers
- Segregates students into those whose families are able to provide care at home, and those who cannot
- Not sustainable for teachers (juggling between classroom teaching and facilitating HBL for every lesson)
That said, Mr Ong states that the Ministry will do their “utmost to keep schools safe” with a holistic system of safe management put in place including:
- Health screening for everyone entering the school
- Cohortisation of students
- Promotion of good hygiene practices
- Safe distancing
“Life has to go on”
On the flip side, there are those who deem the move as necessary.
Schools Cannot be Closed Indefinitely
According to Mr Ong, many countries are making plans to re-open schools after realising that schools “cannot be closed indefinitely”. And these countries have higher cases of community infection as compared to Singapore.
He also said that a large proportion of transmission to children has been from their family members. And now with employees having to return to work, it does not eliminate the possibility of COVID-19 transmission with kids at home.
“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,” said Mr Ong in addressing school reopening top concerns.
Lead photo: File photo and Screengrab from Ong Ye Kung/Facebook