SINGAPORE: From Monday (Sep 28), children below the age of six will not be legally required to wear masks, but some pre-schools CNA spoke to say they will continue with the existing policy of masks or face shields for children under six.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Wednesday that the legal cut-off age for children who need to wear masks will be raised to six years old, up from the current two years old.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) had earlier said young children below six may not have the coordination necessary to use masks properly.
Responding to CNA queries, NTUC First Campus, which manages My First Skool pre-schools, said it will continue to follow MOH’s guidelines to “strongly encourage young children to use a mask or face shield” especially in group settings like pre-school.
“MFS (My First Skool) children have adapted well to mask or face shield wearing in the past few months with the support of our teachers. MFS had developed resources to help children when they transited from home back to pre-school after the circuit breaker,” said a My First Skool spokesperson.
Adding that the centres will continue to engage parents to ensure that the children wear masks or face shields in the pre-schools, the spokesperson said My First Skool will also continue to educate staff and children on the proper wearing, removal and handling of the masks and face shields.
“There are times during the day when it may not be practical or necessary for children to wear masks or face shields. For example, masks or face shields are not needed during meals and nap time. As a precautionary measure during nap time, pre-schools position children further apart from one another when they sleep,” the spokesperson said.
Etonhouse International Education Group, which manages EtonHouse Pre-school and anchor operator E-Bridge Pre-school, also intends to ensure all children at its centres aged two and above continue to wear masks or face shields, as detailed in a circular sent out by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), said executive director Mr Ng Yixian.
“The health and safety of our community is the top priority, and we will continue to work very closely with the relevant authorities and implement their required measures across all our schools,” he added.
In response to CNA queries, ECDA said it advises that all pre-school children aged two years and above should continue to wear masks and face shields in pre-school centres.
The agency added that pre-schools are advised to educate staff and students on the proper wearing, removal and handling of masks and face shields.
"We recognise that some children may have difficulties wearing a mask or face shield, for example, children with special needs and younger children," it said.
"Preschools can continue to exercise some flexibility in securing compliance for these groups. It is also recognised that there may be times during the day where it may not be practical or safe for children to wear masks or face shields."
Mr Ng and chief operating officer of Global EduHub Mr Peh Yi Han both noted that with the use of masks and face shields, parents have observed that their children fall sick less often. Global EduHub runs more than 20 pre-schools, including Mulberry Learning, Little Greenhouse and Alphabet Playhouse.
Adding that the children “have adapted very well” to wearing a mask or face shield, Mr Ng said parents have been supportive of the measures.
“However, with younger children, some parents are concerned with the prolonged use of the masks that it may be uncomfortable for the children. Some have deferred the start date for pre-school to a later date in hopes that their child will be older and more mature to deal with masks for longer periods of time,” said Mr Ng.
“Forging a close partnership between parents and teachers” has helped reinforce the habit of wearing masks or face shields in pre-school centres and outdoors, said Global EduHub's Mr Peh.
“We find that gentle encouragement from the child’s peers and teachers has worked well, and the majority of the children in our preschools do not have issues wearing masks,” he added.
On top of ensuring that the children wear masks or face shields, My First Skool said it has also increased the frequency of temperature checks for children, staff and parents. It is also cleaning its pre-school centres more frequently.
The centres also use ultraviolet commercial sterilisers to thoroughly sanitise commonly shared items such as toys and stationery, the spokesperson said.
At EtonHouse’s Islander Pre-school, its principal wrote a book that details the importance of wearing masks when the school realised that some parents were “struggling” to put on masks for their younger children, said Mr Ng.
He added that the children have been taught how to put on their masks, sanitise their hands before and after they put on their masks, and put away their masks in a proper way.
“Most children have adapted exceptionally well to the practices in school even with the youngest toddlers,” he said.