,Health experts, parents and teachers feel it is not a good idea for schools to reopen next month. – The Malaysian Insight pic, August 14, 2021.
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PARENT-teacher groups and health experts are urging the Education Ministry to reconsider its decision to reopen schools in September as Covid-19 remains a threat. The ministry still has not issued clear plans and preparations ahead of the gradual resumption of face-to-face learning starting September 1, they added. “It is not a good idea to open up schools in September as the number of Covid-19 cases keeps increasing rapidly,” National Parent-Teacher Association (NPTA) president Prof Dr Mohamad Ali Hasan said. He added his concerns about new virus strains such as the Delta and Lambda variants. He said that a lot of issues have to be addressed before students are allowed back into the classroom and preparations should not be rushed. “When it comes to the canteen and open areas in the school compounds, there is still no proper SOP set. “The government should also consider only allowing those who have been vaccinated to return to school,” he added, referring to teachers and staff. Children below the age of 18 are not receiving Covid-19 vaccines yet, although the government has plans to begin vaccinating at-risk groups of teens aged 12 to 15, and 16 to 17 from mid-September. After months of adjustments, the current home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) methods are also showing some good signs, Ali added. “So why stop when you can continue with that. “The results for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination this year have been the best compared to the past five years so it shows that the PdPR is effective and we should stick to that until the situation gets better.” Primary school students resumed face-to-face learning in March this year, while secondary school students only returned to classes in April. But students spent less than two months in physical classes as schools were closed again in early May after Covid-19 infections emerged in school clusters. On July 17, the Education Ministry announced that schools would reopen in stages for face-to face learning from September 1. National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme coordinating minister Khairy Jamaluddin had said that all schools staff would be vaccinated by then. Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said reopening schools when the nation is reporting five-figure Covid-19 cases daily is not practical. He said if the government had different strategies or studies to support claims that children are less susceptible to the virus, it should make these studies public to give parents assurance about letting their children return to school. But as it stands, children and babies have been increasingly infected in the recent surge of the coronavirus. “Schools were closed when we were reporting nearly 2,000 daily cases but now we are reporting nearly 20,000 cases daily. “You think you can open the school at this stage? It doesn’t make sense. “If the government has a different strategy, let us know. If they think the infectivity, complication and mortality rate for children are significantly lower compared to adults, then let us know. “Then the parents can make a decision whether they want to send their children or not,” Dr Lee told The Malaysian Insight. There are about 10 weeks left to the schooling calendar once schools reopen on Sept 1, he pointed out, and the education ministry should instead consider continuing the current PdPR programme till the end of the year. “Start afresh next year. Then the government can focus on real preparations for safe reopening next year,” Dr Lee said. “By keeping schools closed for the remainder of this year, the government can use the next few months to ensure that all the necessary requirements for a safe reopening are in place, while ramping up vaccination.” University Putra Malaysia medical and public health faculty expert Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman, however, had a contrasting view and said she fully supported the reopening on September 1. But she had a caveat – this should only be for those sitting for examinations. Dr Malina said that if the government plans to reopen schools completely for all students, it must take into account the current situation in hospitals and whether healthcare facilities are prepared for another surge in infections. “We can start off by allowing, first, students sitting for their exams, to return to physical school. “Then, the subsequent stages of reopening schools would depend on the daily infection numbers, and also how our hospitals are performing. “Our healthcare system cannot be compromised,” she said. Dr Malina also echoed calls that only those vaccinated be allowed into the school compound. “The teachers and all staff must be fully vaccinated or at least have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. “At the same time, the adult family members of the student must also be vaccinated. “Then I think it should not be an issue to reopen schools because the risk in this case would be relatively low as most of them in the circle are already vaccinated,” she said. – August 15, 2021.