The United Nations’ children’s agency today welcomed the move to reopen schools in March, saying the longer children remain out of school, the greater the learning loss and “irreversible harm”.
In a statement, Unicef’s representative to Malaysia Rashed Mustafa Sarwar said the school is a “microcosm of society” where children can access provisions such as psychosocial support and nutrition alongside their education.
“Schools reopening will allow students to access these services, and to learn, connect and play with their friends again.”
Face-to-face classes came to an abrupt halt last year in the wake of a fierce spike of Covid-19 infections.
While Form 5 and 6 students were initially allowed to return to the classrooms on Jan 20, the education ministry later announced that the former would resume home-based learning beginning Feb 10.
The government said this week that preschool and primary students will return to school beginning March 1.
Standard 1 and 2 pupils will return on March 1, while other primary students will start school the week after.
Secondary students meanwhile will start attending school on April 4, except for those in Form 5 who will start classes on March 8.
Unicef said the Covid-19 pandemic had wreaked havoc on children’s lives, disrupting familiar patterns and impacting their education and mental health.
“As a priority, teachers and school personnel should be vaccinated against Covid-19 once frontline health workers and high-risk populations are vaccinated.
“This will help protect teachers from the virus, allow them to teach in person, and ultimately keep schools open,” it said.
Unicef added that it is working with the education ministry to “reimagine education”, especially for marginalised children.
“We need to develop and strengthen digital and remote learning, internet connectivity, affordable data and devices, and engagement so that children have the skills they need for the future.
“This is an opportunity for the education system in Malaysia to build back better,” it said.