All schools in Singapore reopen its doors after the March holidays today (23 March), and the Ministry of Education (MOE) revealed that only less than 10 percent of students and staff who have travelled abroad are on leave of absence or stay-home notice.
MOE’s Director of Schools Liew Wei Li said to Channel News Asia (CNA) that this 10 percent includes students and staff from across all schools, including special education (SPED) schools as well as MOE kindergartens.
Last Thursday (19 March), MOE, along with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), announced that schools will reopen today as planned but with stricter measures imposed.
These measures include asking students and staff of schools, pre-schools, and student care centres who were overseas during the school holidays from 14 March to undergo a 14-day isolation period from the date of their return.
Separately, the Government also announced that all Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders, and short-term visitors who enter Singapore from 11.59pm last Friday will also have to serve a 14-day stay-home notice.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung also took to his Facebook on Thursday to highlight that “thousands of our students and their families have travelled overseas and have returned, or are now making their way back.”
Ms Liew told CNA that the “affected numbers are manageable.”
“Based on the travel declaration of students and staff prior to the start of the March school holidays, schools will contact the parents of the affected students, as well as affected staff, to inform them directly about the leave of absence,” she said.
Although there might be shortage of teachers who go on leave of absence or have to serve their stay-home notice, Ms Liew said that schools will make the “necessary adjustments” to make sure that classes can go on “uninterrupted”.
Ms Liew explained that the necessary adjustments include hiring more relief teachers and “adapting timetables”.
“MOE will also provide all necessary support to schools, including deploying teachers from other parts of the education service to schools for up to two weeks where needed,” she noted.
As for students who are staying at home, they will continue their lessons via Home-Based Learning, assisted by schools through different ways that is ideal for the students’ needs.
They can utilise the Student Learning Space, which has educational materials and resources for all teachers and students. Additionally, teachers can also give assignments to students using textbooks and workbooks, email them materials, and send them hardcopy packages.
Ong Ye Kung explains the reasons for MOE to reopen schools amid COVID-19 outbreak
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung took to his Facebook on Sunday (22 March) to point out three different reasons why his Ministry decided to reopen school after the March holidays amid COVID-19 outbreak.
He said scientific evidence, taking extra precautions, and a goal to reduce disruptions are the reasons why students are allowed to resume their classes today.
“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,” he said.
Citing scientific evidence which stated younger people are less susceptible to the deadly coronavirus, Mr Ong said it’s probably not “a bad idea” for kids to spend most of their day in school with classmates “who are less susceptible to the virus than adults”.
Additionally, the Minister 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.
Mr Ong added 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.
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.
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.