Ong Ye Kung says attending schools cannot be made ‘voluntary’; Parents say it’s too soon to reopen schools

Attending schools cannot be made “voluntary” as such a system is “not good for the morale of both students and teachers”, said the Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (21 May).
Earlier on 20 May, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced that Singapore will exit the circuit breaker in three phases. In Phase One, primary and secondary students from graduating cohorts – Primary 6, Secondary 4 and 5 – will attend school from Mondays to Fridays.
While students from other cohorts – Primary 1 to 5 and Secondary 1 to 3 – will rotate weekly between home-based learning (HBL) and returning to school for lessons. For preschools, it will gradually reopen by levels from 2 June, with full resumption by 10 June.
Following that, Mr Ong took to Facebook on Thursday to address some of the concerns that many parents have raised following the Government’s announcement to reopen schools after the country exits the circuit breaker on 2 June.
He gave three reasons why schools should resume after the circuit breaker.
“Firstly, it is likely that COVID-19 will stay with us for more than a year, and until a vaccine is available. We simply cannot keep our children at home for so long. The impact on their socio-emotional and mental well-being will be serious,” he noted.
Schools should resume and “reclaim a sense of normalcy” with “many precautions”, after having brought the community transmission to a low and controlled level, Mr Ong said.
He noted that attending schools cannot be made voluntary unless there are specific concerns that arise from medical conditions.
“Second, a voluntary system for parents is not good for the morale of both students and teachers. It segregates students into those whose families are able to provide care at home, and those who can’t. Teachers will end up having to juggle between classroom teaching and facilitating HBL for every lesson, which is not sustainable,” Mr Ong elaborated.
For the third reason, he noted that keeping children away from schools “does not guarantee” that they will be safe from the virus. This is because family members have to attend work and “a large proportion of transmission to children has been from their family members”.
Mr Ong hinted that many countries–including those with higher community cases–have also come into a realisation that school “cannot be closed indefinitely” and are planning to reopen their schools.
“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,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Ong addressed three major concerns in his Facebook post. For children who have problems wearing a face mask for the whole day at school, Mr Ong said that they can wear a face mask or a face shield when in school or on campus.
“Schools will be arranging to distribute face shields to all preschool and primary school students in Term 3. Teachers will help the young children get used to the masks or shields with time. If there are special circumstances, teachers will also exercise flexibility,” he said.
As for parents who are resuming to work on 2 June and have difficulties to plan for childcare arrangements, Mr Ong suggesting to approach their child’s school for assistance. He noted that schools will be prepared to extend limited care to young students on HBL, but without childcare arrangements.
For parents who feel unsafe to send their children to school, he assured that schools will do their utmost to keep the students and staff safe.
“We have a holistic system of safe management, comprising health screening for everyone entering the school, cohortisation of students, good hygiene practices and safe distancing,” Mr Ong asserted.

Parents say it’s too soon to reopen schools amid the pandemic

Nevertheless, many parents penned their concerns on Mr Ong’s Facebook post, saying that it is too soon for the Government to reopen the schools as the pandemic is still ongoing.

Some parents went on to suggest that teachers should undergo testings for COVID-19 to ensure the safety of the staff and children.

One commenter stressed that there is no safe distancing at schools, especially when the students are lining up, sitting in the exam room, lining up for food, sitting during recess, playing together, and other activities. She highlighted that all students, teachers, and non-teaching staff should be tested prior to the reopening of schools.

Others raised concerns about their children having difficulties to wear a face mask, especially for preschool students.

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