In response to parents’ worries of reopening schools on Monday (23 March), Education Minister Ong Ye Kung took to his Facebook to explain his Ministry’s reasoning behind taking this decision.
In the post dated Sunday (22 March), Mr Ong pointed out three different reasons – scientific evidence, taking extra precautions, and a goal to reduce disruptions – as to why students are allowed to start classes following the March holidays.
“I have received many emails and messages from parents. Some asked why not extend the March holidays, especially given the rising number of imported cases and impending border closures. Others, including several students, urged MOE to keep schools open as they would like to go to school,” Mr Ong wrote.
The Minister’s post came after Singapore announced that it will ban all short-term visitors from entering or transiting through the country from 11.59pm on Monday, in order to reduce the risk of imported cases of the novel coronavirus cases in the Republic.
He explained: “Actually, part of the reason for the 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.”
Laying out the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) decision to reopen schools but with more precautionary measures, Mr Ong said that scientific evidence revealed that the deadly COVID-19 does not affect young individuals as much as it does on adults. In fact, evidence shows that young people are not the spreader of the virus, and they themselves get infected by adults at home, the Minister said.
“With the virus being around for several months now, there is a body of scientific evidence showing that COVID-19 does not affect the young very much as compared to adults. Parents will be familiar with this concept, as this is the case for other diseases such as chicken pox,” he said.
He added, “Neither is there evidence to show that the young are vectors or spreaders of the virus. The reverse appears to be the case, where the young get infected by adults at home. This is the advice of Prof Dale Fisher, Group Director of Medicine at NUHS and Chair of the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.”
He also went on to state that only a number of students were infected with the virus, and all of them “caught it outside of their schools.”
“In this context, it may not be a bad idea for our children to spend the bulk of their day in school, where lessons and activities are arranged such that they mingle only with their classmates, who are less susceptible to the virus than adults,” he noted.
He continued, “They will be quite a resilient group. If we close schools, many will not stay home, but may run around in the community and mingle with a lot more people, exposing themselves to more risk.”
Mr Ong also highlighted that closing schools will results in disruption of peoples’ lives, especially working parents with no help, and have limited childcare options. “We are particularly concerned about parents who are healthcare workers and providers of essential services,” he added.
Additionally, the Education Minister also said that different precautionary measures were also in place in order to “safeguard the entire system.”
Some of the measures include the Government’s existing leave of absence and stay-home notice policy, as well as checks on individual’s travel history at school gates, which will be added as an extra precaution.
If that’s not all, students will also only be allowed to spend their school hours in their classes, with co-curricular activities suspended for two weeks.
“All other activities that involve mingling have been suspended. With CCA suspended for two weeks, their only social group is their class,” he wrote.
On top of that, students who are not feeling well – regardless whether if it’s just a cough or sore throat – will be kept in an isolation room or sent home, Mr Ong said.
He also asserted that all students will sit apart, similar to as seating in exam halls, and be reminded to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces.
“Implemented together, these measures will serve as a robust layer of system defence, complementing the natural defence children may already have, to enable school to continue,” he said.