Is It Safe For Our Children To Be In School?

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Press Statement By Violet Yong:

The minister of Education announced that schools in Malaysia will reopen in phases based on the phase of the National Recovery Plan of a particular state is in. As usual, the plans come with some announcements of rather generic steps that schools will take to ensure our children’s safety. Parents and guardians have the choice whether to send their children to schools or not. Based on the ministry’s previous press release, the SPM candidates for year 2020 performed better when compares to their predecessors. As such, majority of parents are puzzled with the ministry’s decision to open schools when the case numbers are still so high and without a definite clear SOP.

In my view, the ministry should do proper planning especially equipping all teachers with new and more effective hybrid teaching techniques which is rather alien to them. It has been almost two years since the first MCO, but till today, there are still teachers who had not been trained about the new hybrid approach as announced by the Minister of Education.

Though circulars relating to the generic approaches had been issued, a more specific pedagogy and effective empowerment had not been properly addressed. This will definitely give rise to lots of ambiguity and confusion during operations as we have seen during last year when schools have to wait till the very last minute to inform parents about school or class closure because they have to wait for District Education Offices, State Education Departments or District Health offices’ directives. All this red tapes obviously do not contribute towards efficiency but only delays on important urgent respond especially when the Delta Variant is raging!

First of all, the ministry must carry out extensive engagement with parents to explain the actual definite plan of the ministry and it’s expectation of parents to ensure the school is safe for children. Parents are expected to ensure their children do not contribute to infecting other children by not letting them to attend school if they or their children have COVID symptoms. This will relieve the schools from having to do daily screening and prevent the spread of COVID among school going children. Unfortunately this engagement can only be carried out effectively if the ministry had already formulated clear and definitive SOPs. Otherwise it will be a waste of time.

Having a set of clear and definite SOPs, the ministry will be able to explain clearly on how the ministry could ensure all teachers and support staff are screened so that they do not contribute to the spreading of Covid-19 virus to the students. The importance of using quality face mask which have sufficient filtering and fitting quality must be emphasised too.

Secondly, the ministry must ensure that all schools are Covid-19 safe for children. To date, ventilation is still a pressing issue as all classrooms and common rooms, especially toilets which are frequent by every student have yet to be installed with proper ventilation system. For the very least, the ministry must install window ventilation fans to ensure sufficient good air flow in the closed confined areas to avoid increasing virus load in such stagnant aired confined area.

We must bear in mind, with the high infectivity of the delta variant, even with only half the class attending classes, a poorly ventilated classrooms will enable the virus load build-up to infect our children. In fact, the ministry can empower the schools to use their per capita grant to install ventilation fans in their respective schools in order to resolve the school ventilation issue.

Nevertheless, the schools must be given clear specific instructions to avoid confusion. These instructions must take into consideration of different scenarios in the schools. These detail specific instructions are very complicated due to the heterogeneous school environment. This again is a true measure of how ready is the ministry to open schools.

Thirdly, we have to adopt a new practice in our screening approach. The schools in the west have adopted the RTK antigen test of at least once a week for all students, teachers and support staff including contractors’ workers. It is important and necessary for the schools to use the same approach in order to detect Covid-19 cases because almost all vaccinated do not show high body temperature, which our previous and current screening approach are targeting. Hence, we must not waste precious school resources in doing ineffective work but focus on the critical important tasks at hand and taking and recording body temperature is definitely not one of them!

The RTK antigen test kits is unaffordable to most Malaysians because it is way too expansive. Based on the survey done, it costs about RM3 to RM5 in Europe but cost around RM30 to RM50 in Malaysia. The government must allow any entity to import the approve test kits to encourage fair competition among businesses and bring the price down and make it affordable to every Malaysian as it will become a basic necessity like air and water in our new norm.

Another pressing issue is that the parents lack confidence in the ministry in keeping the school bubble safe. This is because there is a serious lack of support to our B40 students making them unable to afford the better quality 3-ply face mask. The ministry must ensure that face masks are made available to these children through whichever programme that is deemed suitable. It is pertinent for the government to have a clear and definite face mask programme or risk an epidemic spread of the Covid 19 infection because only mask of appropriate filtration property and cover properly will be effective.

If the parent engagement session were done effectively, the more well off parents will sure to step in to assist as these programmes help to improve and guarantee the safety of the students.

Last but not least, the ministry must also ensure that proper sanitisation is done if there is a change in the group of children using any room in the school. Among the rooms of concern are the science laboratories, computer rooms, prayer rooms and room dedicated for specific activities in schools. I am confident if the Ministry could adopt the suggested approaches, it will help reduce the risk of infection and greatly increase the parents confidence in the safety of their children.

Violet Yong
ADUN for Pending
15.9.2021