Education Min must have clear guidelines on opening and closing of schools

By S. Harrish

THE Education Ministry should come up with specific parameters in deciding whether to close schools if an outbreak occurs as it will give direction to all parties involved.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said in a statement today that the parameters should remain transparent to the public to allay concerns and also allow parents to make an informed decision.

He said since Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Harun said the government had its own way of addressing the emergence of Covid-19 clusters in the education sector, the government should reveal them.

“We want what is best for our children and the Education Ministry must not work in silos anymore.”

Dr Yii proposed that decisions to open schools must be purely based on public health data that included parameters such as Infective Rate (Rt) or Positive Rate to properly determine whether enough testing is done on a district and sub-district level especially where those schools are located.

“I propose that schools open only if the positive rate in a region stays below 5% (WHO recommendation) over a certain period.”

Dr Kelvin Yii 

He said decisions whether to have physical classes must be based on local health conditions and school-specific information.

These include the ability of the school to follow all the necessary SOPs, the ability to divide students into smaller groups and the physical condition of the school building.

Other factors are on the ability of health authorities to respond to an outbreak in the area.

“If the current health system in that area is stretched, 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 a decision either to open or close and parents can also make decisions.”

Dr Yii said the ministry should also develop a comprehensive plan for remote learning.

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

“The best way forward is a hybrid system that involves both in-person and virtual instruction where parents are given the choice to send their children to school especially those that could not follow the home-based learning.”

He said those who follow home-based learning will reduce the number of students in the schools.

A “rotational system” can also be done where certain group of students come on alternate days, which will help reduce the number of students in schools, he added.

Based on current parameters on a local level in Sarawak, Dr Yii proposed that schools in high-risk areas with high positivity rate to remain closed for another two weeks to stop the spread of infections.

He said the Ministry should also fully prepare for the upcoming opening properly to avoid any outbreak in any Sarawak schools.