Ministry of Education Should Review The Decision to Restart School in September

Chan Foong Hin

KOTA KINABALU: Democratic Action Party (DAP) Member of Parliament for Kota Kinabalu Chan Foong Hin today called upon the Ministry of Education to take heed of the voices of the public and to seriously relook into the decision to restart schools in September this year.

“The Ministry of Education must learn from the experience and complications faced at the beginning of this year and not repeat the same mistakes. As the Covid-19 pandemic situation continues to worsen, the Ministry must not act hastily in reopening schools before making sure they are truly ready, properly,” said Chan.

Chan, who is also the Secretary of DAP Sabah, pointed out that earlier this year, Primary One and Primary Two students had started class on March 1, followed by Primary Three to Primary Six students a week later. In less than two months, on April 22, five primary and secondary schools in Kota Kinabalu began to have confirmed Covid-19 positive cases.

“Hundreds of students ended up queueing up for COVID-19 testing, and I believe that this incident is still fresh in everyone’s memory,” said Chan.

Chan said that looking back at the data at that point in time when schools restarted in early March, the number of new Covid-19 cases in Kota Kinabalu per day remained at a single digit; then on April 22, there were 42 new cases.

“Compare that with the daily new cases right now in Kota Kinabalu. Yesterday alone there were 635 cases! Will there be any trend of decline within the next three weeks? If schooling were to restart at this time, I foresee that there will be Covid-19 clusters attributable to schools in less than two weeks’ time!” said Chan.

Chan noted that no doubt more teachers would have been vaccinated. However, the Minister of Health Datuk Seri Adham Baba had on August 1 pointed out that there are still about 85,000 teachers in this country who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 yet.

“The Minister of Health had merely said that all teachers are expected to receive at least one dose of vaccine before school starts in September. However, that does not seem to guarantee anything at all. Is one dose of vaccine protection enough to ensure that our children will be safe from Covid-19? What about other players in the education sector? School cafeteria operators, bus drivers, and Security guards? Have they all been vaccinated?” questioned Chan.

Chan then added that as far as students are concerned, most of them are still exposed to the danger as they have not been vaccinated – the Ministry of Health, till now, is still studying whether it is suitable for students between 12 and 17 to be vaccinated.

It can be seen that the Ministry of Health is not yet ready for the important decision to restart schools. At the same time, the Ministry of Education must face up to the problem.

With the increase in the number of daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 over the past few days, it is certainly not suitable to start school on September 1 and  the Ministry of Education should postpone the school start date.

“From September 1st to the end of the school year on December 11th, there are only 10 weeks of classes. In case where Covid-19 school clusters were to form, then the school will be forced to closed for two weeks, and all will have to undergo testing for the school to reopen. After these cycles of closure and reopening, how much time is actually spent on teaching without interruption?” said Chan.

Chan then said that since there are only 10 weeks left, the Ministry of Education might as well think about how to strengthen the implementation of home-based learning and teaching (PdPR).

“For example, the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia ought to look into greatly increasing the internet speeds at the homes of teachers and students, the Ministry of Finance look into providing subsidies or to absorb charges to provide free internet to B40 families, and the Ministry of Rural Development to look into improving communication equipment in the suburbs and countryside,” said Chan.

There are 500,000 teachers in the country, and the number of primary and secondary school students is about 5.4 million. Together with teachers, the total is about 5.9 million, accounting for about 18% of the country’s total population. The education sector should not be but to risk of Covid-19 infections, otherwise the consequences would be disastrous, said Chan.