Specific parameters on opening, closing of schools needed

Dr Kelvin Yii

KUCHING: Dr Kelvin Yii is proposing that schools in areas with high Covid-19 cases in Sarawak remain closed for another two weeks.

At the same, the Bandar Kuching MP is calling for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to have specific parameters to decide the opening and closing of schools in the case of an outbreak.

Dr Yii said he was concerned that since the announcement on the closure of schools, not much had been done to prepare for the opening, which was why MOE needed specific parameters to give certainty and direction to all parties.

“Such parameters must be revealed transparently to the public to allay concerns and more importantly, empower parents to make an informed decision for what is best for their child,” he said in a Facebook post on Monday (April 26).

He said the government must reveal the plan and prove that it was not mere talk only following federal Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun’s remarks that the government had its own way of addressing the emergence of Covid-19 clusters in the education sector.

“At the end of the day, we want what is best for our children and thus it is important for the MOE not to work in silo anymore, but together with all relevant ministries to come up with a comprehensive education blueprint during a pandemic to balance the importance of health and education for our children.

“…and that is why I propose that the ministry based these decisions on three main criteria, especially in view of reopening schools and addressing this issue.”

First, he said, the decision to open schools must be based on public health data where the government must be transparent with the data, not just overall daily numbers, but also parameters such as Infective Rate (Rt) or Positive Rate to properly determine whether enough testing was done in an area on a district and sub-district level, especially where schools are located.

“I would propose that schools open only if the positive rate in a region stays below five per cent (based on World Health Organisation recommendation) over a certain period.”

Secondly, he said, decisions to have physical classes must be based on local health conditions and school-specific information, that is, the ability of the school to follow all the necessary standard operating procedures, including considering the size of the student body, the ability to divide students into smaller cohorts, and the physical condition of the school building.

“This includes looking at the ability of the health department officers and even hospitals to respond in case of an outbreak in the area. If the current health system in that area is full, we must take extra precautions to prevent any outbreak in schools in the area.

“By being transparent with this data, the district education office can then make decisions either to open or close and the parents can also be aware to make decisions for their children.”

Thirdly, he said, there was a need to develop a comprehensive plan for remote learning that included plans for full-time remote learning and hybrid approaches.

“We cannot continue opening and closing schools based on daily figures. It is too disruptive to the child’s education and lesson plans.

“Those who can do home-based learning can make the choice of staying home, thus reducing the number of students in the schools. A rotational system can also be done where a certain group of students come on alternate days which will help reduce the number of students in school.”