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Friday, April 30, 2021

Despite fear of Covid-19, parents groups back call to keep schools open

 A Standard One student takes online lessons January 20, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

A Standard One student takes online lessons January 20, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 —  Two parents associations have supported the Ministry of Education’s decision to keep classrooms open even as they express concern over the emergence of several Covid-19 clusters in schools in the past two weeks.

Parents Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said schools remain the safest option for working families who could not afford daycare for their children, whom she said were at risk of social problems in the absence of guardians.

Shutting down the classrooms would also leave children from low-income households further behind in their education, since most could not afford equipment for online learning. 

Experts have also pointed to the need for parental guidance during online learning, she said, but noted that it has been made harder because most parents would be out working. Households where both parents are income earners form the bulk of the country’s workforce. 

“As long as there are teachers to run schools they should remain open as not all parents are able to be at home with their children for (online learning),” the PAGE chairman said in a text reply to Malay Mail.  

“Even if schools close now there is no guarantee that students will be at home. They may loiter if parents or guardians are not at home to watch over them.” 

By April 23, the Health Ministry said it detected over 30 clusters with 1,420 cases involving subcategories of schools or institutions under the Education Ministry from January 1 to April 20. 

Clusters involving educational institutions had already doubled to a dozen in just seven days at the time, prompting fear among parents and driving some schools to close again.

Yet, the data suggests the clusters were not born from within the classrooms. Instead infected teachers or pupils were likely to have contracted the coronavirus through their respective communities, and later infected others as they attended school. 

Clusters from learning institutions formed just over 2 per cent of total active clusters, MoE said yesterday as it announced the decision to keep schools open.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie), which was vocal in opposing the reopening of schools last month, said it trusts the government’s “professionalism” to ensure their children’s safety.

“We have to gauge the situation realistically now. We should leave it to the professionalism of MoH and MoE,” said Mak Chee Kin, its chairman.

“Trust they have the SOPs in assessing the situation in deciding the extent of the spread.”

The pandemic has kept schools closed for the most part of last year, causing parents to worry if their children would lag behind in education.

Magpie said more than half of parents they polled want their children to be in school, and shutting it down should only be as a last resort. 

The group has urged the government and parents associations to channel more resources and manpower to ensure stricter health protocols are in place.

“I believe with the support from all especially the respective schools’ PTA and parents, the SOPs in schools can be further enhanced,” said Mak.

His suggestions included PTA members volunteering to help monitor students and parents movement before and after school. 

“The PTA laymen should not press the panic button and cause more confusion,” she said.

“Instead in situations like these they should help the school management to further improve SOPs in schools and gain the confidence of parents to send their children back to school.” - malaymail

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