SINGAPORE — Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that attending school is compulsory for students when schools reopen on 2 June as Singapore exits its COVID-19 circuit breaker period.
He said in a post on his Facebook page on Thursday (21 May) that unless there are specific concerns arising from medical conditions, his ministry cannot make attending school voluntary.
Ong was addressing some of the concerns of parents as schools are set to resume in two phases, amid a handful of community COVID-19 infections daily.
For the first phase, which is set to last a few weeks, primary and secondary students from graduating cohorts – Primary 6, Secondary 4 and 5 – will attend school from Mondays to Fridays. 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.
In Phase 2, in tandem with the broader easing at the national level, possibly in a few weeks’ time, all students will return to school from Mondays to Fridays.
We cannot keep our children at home for so long: Ong
Addressing some parents’ concerns that they don’t feel safe sending their children back to school, Ong gave three reasons why attending school is compulsory for students from 2 June.
“First, 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,” he said in his Facebook post.
“The impact on their socio-emotional and mental well-being will be serious. Having brought community transmission to a low and controlled level, we should resume school, reclaim a sense of normalcy, while taking many precautions.
“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.
“Lastly, keeping our children away from school does not guarantee that they will be safe from COVID-19 either. Family members have to go to work, and a large proportion of transmission to children has been from their family members.”
How to make schools safe
Ong added that many countries have realised that schools cannot be closed indefinitely, and are making plans to reopen theirs, even though their number of community cases is much higher than Singapore’s.
He assured parents 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,” he said in his post.
“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.”
Face shields for all pre-school, primary school students
Ong also addressed two other major concerns in his Facebook post. For young children who may have problems wearing a face masks for the whole day at school, Ong said they can wear either a face mask or a face shield when in school or on campus.
“Schools will be arranging to distribute face shields to all pre-school and primary school students in Term 3,” he said. “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.”
As for parents going back to work on 2 June who have difficulty planning for childcare arrangements, Ong urged them to approach their child’s school for assistance. He said that schools will be prepared to extended “limited care” to young students on HBL, but without childcare arrangements.
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