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Covid-19: Some parents call for full home-based learning after spate of cases among students; MOE says schools remain safe

SINGAPORE — With the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in the wider community, Madam Chan wishes she has the option of keeping her eight-year-old son at home with the support of his teachers.

Some parents hope their children can stay home owing to the recent rise in cases among students, while other parents want schools to remain open as they felt their children were more distracted with home-based learning.

Some parents hope their children can stay home owing to the recent rise in cases among students, while other parents want schools to remain open as they felt their children were more distracted with home-based learning.

  • More than 5,200 people have signed a petition calling for the roll-out of home-based learning for students aged 18 and under
  • Some parents hope their children can stay home owing to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases among students
  • Other parents want schools to remain open as they felt their children were more distracted studying from home
  • Based on the Ministry of Education’s current assessment, there is no need to shift all schools to home-based learning
  • Health experts agreed with the approach of keeping schools open as much as possible

 

SINGAPORE — With the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in the wider community, Madam Chan wishes she has the option of keeping her eight-year-old son at home with the support of his teachers.

“I hesitate every day to let my child go to school,” the 44-year-old housewife said. 

Her son is a Primary 2 pupil at a school in eastern Singapore. She declined to give her full name or reveal the school her son attends for privacy reasons.

Her concern stems from coronavirus cases surfacing in schools island-wide of late.

Mdm Chan is among more than 5,200 people who have signed a petition on Change.org calling for the roll-out of home-based learning for students aged 18 and below. 

The petition, started last week, noted that not everyone between 12 and 18 has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while children under 12 cannot be inoculated and are thus most vulnerable to the disease.

Full home-based learning across schools was last rolled out from May 19 to 28, during the first Phase 2 (heightened alert) period.

Singapore re-entered this phase of heightened alert last Thursday, but schools remain open to minimise the impact on learning. 

The Ministry of Health has been reporting more than 100 cases of locally transmitted coronavirus cases daily for the past 10 days.

Parents interviewed by TODAY who are keen on a return to home-based learning pointed to the rise in cases as their main concern.

Infections have been reported among students from at least 14 schools this past week.

The parents also noted that it was hard to enforce infection control measures among children. Teachers may be deployed to guide students across educational levels, thereby raising the potential for transmission.

A parent, who requested anonymity as she is a parent-volunteer at her daughter’s school, said that there was added anxiety among parents of students from the graduating cohort. 

Her daughter will sit the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in October.

“Among parents of Primary 6 students, we are very concerned because PSLE is so near. The number (of daily cases) is so high now — we’ve not seen such high numbers since last year,” the housewife in her early 50s said.

Another parent, who works in the hotel industry and requested anonymity because she is also a parent-volunteer at her daughter’s school, said: “It’s very difficult to enforce social distancing with small kids.”

While schools have rolled out staggered dismissal times, students may end up congregating in other areas such as bus stops, the 47-year-old noted.

Other parents, though, prefer that schools stay open because their children were more distracted when studying at home.

It is also important for them to build relationships with teachers and fellow students while in school, they added. 

Civil servant Eddie Lim, 45, said: “School is a good platform for kids to interact and learn… It’s far more effective than home-based learning.”

The father-of-two reckoned that while at home, students might slack off and use their mobile phones.

Another parent, a civil servant in his early 50s who declined to be named for privacy reasons, said: “Students at home tend to stray after the lessons and indulge in online games.”

The father-of-one added: “The interaction with teachers and (other) students is much better than looking at a screen.” 

Mr Lim noted that reverting to home-based learning would disrupt the work schedules of parents, particularly those in essential services.

“For essential workers who have to go to work, how can they focus (at work when their children are alone at home)?” he asked.

WHAT MOE SAYS

Responding to TODAY’s queries about the petition, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said that it understood the parents' concerns.

“While a number of students have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past weeks in tandem with the increase in community cases, our schools remain safe, with no school-based transmissions in this recent wave of cases.”

It gave the assurance that schools would take the necessary steps if there are confirmed coronavirus cases. These include issuing leave of absence to close contacts quickly and rolling out home-based learning by level to safeguard students and staff members.

The ministry noted that it had seen how extended school closures in some countries could have a long-term impact on students.

It therefore wants to keep schools open as far as possible and put only individual schools or selected classes or levels of students in affected schools on home-based learning, while ensuring that learning continues safely for all students and staff members.

“MOE will continue to monitor the situation very closely, but based on our current assessment, and by having in place stringent protocols and safe-management measures, there is no need to shift all schools to home-based learning.”

WHAT EXPERTS SAY 

Health experts agreed with MOE’s approach of keeping schools open as much as possible and rolling out targeted home-based learning at affected ones.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research with the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS), noted that Covid-19 cases among children were almost all mild. 

The risk is more that children might infect non-vaccinated family members.

“If the child has contact with his or her grandparents, and one or more grandparent is unvaccinated, then parents might be cautious about sending the child to a school with a case or cluster,” he said.

Professor Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at NUS, said that Singapore has the capacity to close schools and roll out home-based learning, but there is no need to do this nationally and pre-emptively. 

“There is a cost to such measures and I agree with holding out as long as you can and, hopefully, avoiding it altogether.” 

Dr Ling Li Min, an infectious disease specialist from Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, said that keeping schools open was beneficial to the psychological well-being of students and their learning.

“When schools close, the kids who suffer the most are those whose parents are working and (so they) do not have adult supervision with home-based learning,” she said.

Agreeing, Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian said that schools should remain open if the risk can be managed well.

The director of the high-level isolation unit at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases said: “Speaking as a parent myself, it’s hard for children to sustain concentration over an entire school day with sessions using (video-conferencing channel) Zoom. 

“Our children learn better in schools than if they are stuck at home. They flourish through healthy interactions with their teachers, peers and counsellors.”

While the experts acknowledged that schools are a higher-risk setting given that they are places with high human traffic, they said that vaccination was crucial to minimising transmission and preventing severe illness.

In an update on July 30, the Ministry of Education told TODAY that almost all eligible students here have registered for their vaccinations Of these, more than 90 per cent have received their first dose and almost 70 per cent have taken their second dose.

Prof Lim said that good vaccine uptake among teenagers, with more receiving the shots, further reduces the risk of large clusters forming in schools.

Infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam, who is also from Rophi Clinic, said: “I have little doubt that the schools will get hit soon. 

“But we might just be able to get through it by the skin of our teeth."

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schools Covid-19 coronavirus home-based learning MOE parents

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