Not all are back in class but it’s right timing to reopen schools, says Ong Ye Kung
SINGAPORE — Five-year-old Nyla Haziqah Muhammad Luthfi could not wait to meet her friends from preschool after being away since April 8 when the Government ordered schools to close. Her mother, Ms Nurhasinah Aslahuddin, a 32-year-old administrative executive, said: “She was so excited, she didn’t even want to have breakfast.”
SINGAPORE — Five-year-old Nyla Haziqah Muhammad Luthfi could not wait to meet her friends from preschool after being away since April 8 when the Government ordered schools to close.
Her mother, Ms Nurhasinah Aslahuddin, a 32-year-old administrative executive, said: “She was so excited, she didn’t even want to have breakfast.”
When the girl arrived at NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool at 50 Sengkang West Way, she was really happy when she saw her friends, her mother added.
Across the island, selected groups of students returned to schools on Tuesday (June 2) after a two-month period of enforced movement restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases likely to rise as some businesses and activities resume, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Tuesday that it was better to reopen schools now while daily cases are at a single digit, instead of running into a possibility of a prolonged school closure.
Parents also told TODAY that they felt it was safe for their children to return to schools with the necessary precautions being taken.
SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
Speaking to reporters during his visit to Xingnan Primary School in Jurong West, Mr Ong said the chances are that the number of Covid-19 cases may go up as containment measures are eased.
“So if we are not comfortable opening up (schools) now, when we have zero or very low daily infections, what more later?" he said.
If schools continue to close and there is a second wave of infections, the “very prolonged” school closure will have “quite a tremendous” impact on the social and emotional development of young children, he added.
Daily classes resumed on Tuesday for graduating cohorts of students in Primary 6, Secondary 4 and 5. All other primary and secondary school students will alternate weekly between home-based learning and classes in school.
For preschools, only Kindergarten 1 and 2 (K1 and K2) children are back in school for lessons. Nursery 1 and 2 children are to return from June 8, while children under infant care and in playgroups may return from June 10.
Mr Ong also said that Singapore could learn some lessons from South Korea, where schools had to close again after reopening due to a second wave of coronavirus infections when movement restrictions there were eased.
“It is a good reminder that as we open up, we take it step by step… we are erring on the side of being more careful, learning from the South Koreans.”
‘ENCOURAGING’ ATTENDANCE RATE
Like many students of all ages across the island, Sec 1 student Kliff Cheang from Nan Chiau High School in Sengkang East was simply happy to meet his friends and teachers again.
The 13-year-old said that he was prepared to put up with the inconvenience of wearing a mask and limit his mingling with friends to contain the spread of Covid-19.
At Xingnan Primary School, where Pri 4, 5 and 6 students had returned on Tuesday, it was a 96 per cent attendance rate.
Calling it “encouraging” and “very high for a term start”, Mr Ong said that some of those who were absent may have been feeling unwell.
For My First Skool at 50 Sengkang West Way, 70 per cent of its 130 K1 and K2 children reported to school.
The proportion of children present in school similarly ranged between 70 and 75 per cent across all of the preschool’s centres.
Ms Thian Ai Ling, general manager of NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool and Afterschool, said that some parents had chosen to not let their children return to school because their other children, who may be attending other levels of preschools or schools run by the Ministry of Education, are not due to resume classes yet.
At the Gilstead campus of St James Church Kindergarten near Dunearn Road, its principal Alicia Yah said that 75 per cent of its K2 cohort, and 60 per cent of its K1 cohort had returned on Tuesday.
Some parents told Mrs Yah that they will monitor the infection rates first before deciding if they want to let their children return to school, while others said that their children will go back during the second phase when the Government lifts more restrictions.
This is expected to be before the end of June should daily community transmission rates remain low.
‘NEW NORMAL’ FOR SCHOOLS
When asked whether schools here would have the capacity to maintain safe distancing when they fully reopen during the second phase, Mr Ong said they are big enough to accommodate such measures.
As measures are relaxed and life gets back to normal, students will have to familiarise themselves with a “new normal”, such as keeping up personal hygiene efforts, adopting wipe-down routines in schools or wearing masks, Mr Ong said.
“I think these are ‘new normal’ habits, social habits that are good for us... We can’t define ‘new normal’ yet, but we know that we are moving towards it and defining it as we go.”
STAGGERED MEALS TIMES, FREQUENT HAND-WASHING
Parents interviewed by TODAY said that despite concerns about the community spread of the virus, they are assured by the precautions taken by schools.
Ms Nurhasinah, whose daughter was back in My First Skool at 50 Sengkang West Way, said that she was “more than satisfied” by what the preschool is doing.
For instance, My First Skool will increase the cleaning frequency across its 145 centres and get students to wash their hands every two hours. The centres will also use ultraviolet sterilisers to thoroughly sanitise commonly shared items such as toys.
Concerns about her daughter having to wear a mask for the entire time that she is in school were also allayed after she was informed that children will be allowed to remove it during nap, meal and bath times.
Over at St James Church Kindergarten, students will have staggered meal times, while the number of students in a class eating at any one time has been reduced by half.
Ms Michelle Lam, whose five-year-old son attends kindergarten there, had concerns at first about her son contracting Covid-19 but was reassured that all preschool teachers had been tested before schools reopened.
She decided that her son should head back to school because children his age needs social interaction, the 45-year-old healthcare worker said.