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Muddled thinking and education


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The practical problems involved in reopening schools are daunting. It isn’t as simple as the minister makes it out to be, P Ramakrishnan writes.

The Education Minister, Senator Mohd Radzi Jidin, has come out with some suggestions as to how schools will operate when the movement control order is lifted.

The way he had presented his suggestions to solve the problems arising from Covid-19 and social distancing seems very simple and easy (Malay Mail, 12 May 2020).

One wonders if he is in grasp of the facts and the system and structure of our schools. His intention to break up classrooms to smaller units to maintain social distancing is commendable. But is it workable? Parents are worried.

Let’s take a medium-sized school. There may be 20 classrooms. The minister’s proposal to split the class into half would land us with an additional 20 classes. In all, we would need 40 classrooms to accommodate the present increased number of classes. Do we have enough classrooms? Parents are wondering. That is problem number one.

Problem number two: We would need another 20 teachers for this arrangement to work. How are we going to create this number of teachers? Here we are talking about one school. How many schools are there in each state and what is the total for the country? Multiply that by the additional number of classes and teachers, what is the total number of classes and teachers needed? Parents are baffled.

There is no magic wand to create the extra classes and additional teachers by the stroke of the wand. How do we manage this? When a class is split into two, we need to have two teachers with the same qualification to teach the subject. How do we manage science classes when the laboratories are limited in a school? How do we conduct PE lessons when we have a small field? Parents are scratching their heads.

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For decades we have been talking about a single-session school. We are no where nearer this dream. It continues to remain a dream. We had many, many years at our disposal and the means to put up these extra classrooms. But we got nowhere. Why? Parents are confused.

In Sabah, we are told that schools are in a deplorable condition. In spite of many promises to address this issue, nothing has been done. They remain unresolved. Parents remain disappointed.

When we had the luxury of time over the years to plan and build, we didn’t achieve much. Now, all of a sudden, how are we going to create classroom space to solve the problems arising from the minister’s proposal? Parents are asking.

The minister’s claim that the ministry has “conducted a field trial to determine the reasonable number of students within each class based on classrooms’ dimension and social distancing measures” must be taken with a pinch of salt.

What kind of a field trial was conducted when there was a lockdown? Who assisted the minister to carry out this field trial? Where was this field trial conducted? How many schools were involved in this field trial? Parents remain sceptical.

The minister also stated that they have come up with standard operating procedures to ensure that there would be no congestion during normal recess. Even with staggered recess, it is not unusual to have a few hundred students at a time. Will there be enough space to implement social distancing?

I understand that recess is usually twice daily and under exceptional circumstances, it can also be three times. Under the proposed social distancing, how many recesses are required? The number of teachers deployed will leave them with hardly any time for meaningful teaching. Parents are fearful.

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What about certain schools where primary and secondary schools share the same premises and the same canteen? Can you imagine the number of students coming out for their recess? It will be a nightmare to control and ensure social distancing when hungry students are out for their meals.

The minister states “that food will be packaged and we have guidelines for eating in the canteen which will involve where and when students will have their meals”. There are schools with a small canteen space. How will this be managed? Will the packaged food be supplied free?

What about transport? Children cannot be jam-packed for maximum income as is done by school buses. With social distancing, are the buses also expected to observe this? If so, they will have to make extra trips with a reduced number of students per trip. The children will have to be picked up perhaps at 5am for the first trip or even earlier, and they will return home much later in the afternoon. Have these problems been taken into account? Parents are anxious.

The practical problems are many and daunting. It isn’t as easy or simple as the minister makes it out to be. Parents are in a dilemma.

Will the classrooms and the canteen be sanitised daily? Parents are hoping.

We need more information to feel confident that the minister has solved the problem. Parents need assurance.

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