Educationists have welcomed the government’s decision to reopen schools in stages from October onwards, calling it an important step in helping children adjust, especially those from underprivileged homes who have been particularly affected by the many months of home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Despite the mixed reaction from parents and other stakeholders, former education director-general Abd Ghafar Mahmud said reopening schools was a justified move.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said it would allow students from the lower-income bracket to catch up on their studies, especially those from rural areas and special needs pupils.
He said students from these groups have faced bigger challenges than others in following their classes through PdPR.
“Students who want to study cannot fully do so due to issues over internet connection, gadgets and their abilities,” he added.
“They have been left much further behind than pupils who have the necessary facilities.”
Education Minister Radzi Jidin, in announcing the government’s decision to begin reopening schools for physical classes, said this would take place according to phases in the National Recovery Plan.
Schools in Phase One states will remain closed, with pupils to continue learning through PdPR.
In Phase Two states, only students sitting for examinations will be allowed to return to school for physical classes.
Schools in Phase Three and Four states meanwhile will be allowed to reopen contingent on current risk assessments.
Schools given the green light to reopen are allowed to operate at 50% capacity per class, whereas attendance at certain institutions will be based on a rotation system.
Radzi said parents who do not wish to send their children to school will be allowed to keep them at home although they must write to the school to inform the management of their decision.
Face masks will be supplied for children from B40 families while those who do not have school uniforms can attend classes in other, appropriate, clothing.
Ghafar said the government could not push too far in reopening schools while daily cases remain at levels of 19,000 to 20,000.
“Classes must be held with care, based on the number of cases,” he said.
“The minister’s plan is actually quite conservative.”
He added that the teachers, too, have been under pressure due to PdPR, saying the situation is further aggravated when parents accuse them of being paid for doing nothing.
“We train all teachers for face-to-face classes,” he said. “When it comes to teaching online classes, teachers by and large must learn how to do this themselves.
“With PdPR, the main issue is student assessment,” he added. “There are many shortcomings in assessing students when classes are held online.”
Sukimin Juki, chairman of the Malaysian Federation of the Council of Headmasters, said parents have the flexibility to decide whether to send their children back to school or not.
He said many had already begun holidaying in popular locations over the weekend.
“No one talked about complying with SOPs even though there was no social distancing observed in those spots compared to in schools.
“People like to sensationalise schools, but cannot be directly compared to other areas out there,” he told MalaysiaNow.
He too agreed that the ministry had set safety measures and SOPs to ensure maximum protection for students.
At his school in Kajang, Selangor, which will open to special needs students on Oct 3, preparations are underway to welcome back pupils.
He said the government could not afford to waste anymore time for children with special needs.
“At this age, it is important for them to continue receiving education, development and cognitive management,” he said.