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Virus spike sparks schools' closure call

KUALA LUMPUR: The National Parent-Teacher Association (NPTA) has urged the Education Ministry to close all schools and switch back to home-based teaching and learning following the emergence of Covid-19 infections in schools.

NPTA president Associate Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Ali Hassan put forward three reasons to justify another round of school closure.

"Firstly, the virus is already in the community and school grounds are not immune to the transmissions.

"Secondly, although teachers work hard to enforce the standard operating procedures (SOP) in schools, they cannot control or regulate the movement of students after school hours," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

He also cited pictures of people not complying with physical distancing rules at public places such as Ramadan bazaars, which had been making their rounds on social media.

"Many parents have been spotted bringing their young children, who are possibly school students, to these crowded and congested areas.

Associate Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Ali Hassan.

"This could contribute to infections at school grounds if the children contract the virus elsewhere."

The third reason for the need to shut down schools, he said, was the delay in vaccination for teachers.

"This will mean that they (the teachers) are equally susceptible to contract or transmit the infections. Therefore, we think it is best to close all schools for now to mitigate the spread of Covid-19."

Ali urged the government to expedite the vaccine rollout for all educators to ensure that schools could reopen safely in the near future.

"Teachers are the guardians of our future generation. Their safety, therefore, is paramount."

On April 17, Science, Technology and Innovation Deputy Minister, Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon said more than 10 per cent of teachers in the country had received their vaccines under phase one of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP).

He also said the ministry was deliberating with the Education Ministry to include all teachers in phase two of the NIP, instead of only the 55,000 high-risk teachers who had been identified previously.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia senior lecturer Anuar Ahmad described the recent round of school closures nationwide as nothing short of a "nightmare" for the education system.

Anuar suggested for a school rotation system, shorter schooling hours, and decentralise decision-making powers to schools and parent-teacher associations.

The rapid transmission of Covid-19 infections in schools, he said, was because schools were operating at full capacity, which makes enforcing physical distancing almost impossible.

Anuar Ahmad.

"Several Scandinavian countries, despite having stricter SOP than us, have opted for a rotation system for their schools to operate during the pandemic.

"Our country, however, took a rash decision in allowing schools to operate at full capacity. By right, our schools should only be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

"For instance, primary schools should require Years 1 to 3 pupils to attend classes physically only for three days. The next two days, they can follow home-based teaching and learning."

Anuar said school authorities should use vacant classrooms to split students into smaller groups to better implement physical distancing.

"Schooling hours should also be shortened to minimise the risk of transmission.

"In the event a positive case is detected, only the batch of students and teachers who attended classes physically will have to undergo quarantine.

"Classes can resume for the other students after the school grounds have been sanitised."

A SMK USJ 23 staff member putting up a closure sign on the school’s gate in Subang Jaya yesterday. - BERNAMA pic

Apart from that, Anuar suggested for the Education Ministry to empower school authorities and parent-teacher associations to decide on the teaching hours for each subject.

"At the moment, it is crucial to prioritise the subjects and skills that students need to master.

"The focus should be on core subjects and the teaching hours should be determined based on students' proficiency level.

"If students in a particular school have high proficiency in Bahasa Melayu, then the school should be allowed to shorten the teaching hours for that subject and allot more hours for another subject.

"A one-size-fits-all approach determined by Putrajaya is no longer applicable during the pandemic."

Anuar also urged the ministry to act swiftly to reassure parents that their children can enjoy a safer schooling session.

Several states and school authorities had decided to close schools in red zones to stem the spread of Covid-19 on school grounds. On April 19, Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg ordered all schools in red zones statewide to be closed for 14 days, starting yesterday. Eighteen districts in Sarawak had been designated as red zones.

Kelantan issued a one-week closure directive for schools and learning institutions in seven districts yesterday following the reinstatement of the Movement Control Order in the districts on April 16.

In Pahang, 15 primary and secondary schools statewide had been closed as of April 18 after several Covid-19 positive cases were detected.

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