SINGAPORE: Safe distancing measures to space out children in classrooms will need to be in place when schools reopen, said Second Education Minister Indranee Rajah in an interview with CNA on Friday (Apr 24).
While plans were currently being worked out, Ms Indranee said one of the first things to do was to make sure there was sufficient space available, because in the past, students would sit closely together in a classroom.
“The first thing you've got to do is try to make sure that the physical arrangements are there," she said.
“Then when the children come back, they will have to start adapting to a new routine where they consistently practise safe distancing.”
It was previously announced that the mid-year school holidays would be brought forward to May 5, with lessons resuming on Jun 2, in line with the extension of the national "circuit breaker" which runs until Jun 1.
Ms Indranee highlighted that the priority was to ensure that students who were taking national examinations such as the Primary School Leaving Examination and the O-Levels were eased into the new school routine.
She also assured parents that schools and teachers would continue to reach out to students as well as to extend help to those with mental health issues.
STEPS WILL ALSO BE TAKEN TO MAKE SURE DISADVANTAGED STUDENTS CATCH UP
Another group Ms Indranee said the Government was paying close attention to were students from disadvantaged families.
She said the first thing to do when schools reopen would be to assess where these students stood academically and whether they had slipped behind in their home-based learning lessons.
“We will make sure that they have remedial lessons and the support. If need be, we can also connect with community partners and self-help groups who are running the tuition programmes to make sure that they catch up," she said.
She cited community partners such as the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), Mendaki and the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC).
According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), about 96 per cent of students participated in full home-based learning, with those who were absent mostly on medical leave.
But observers warn that children from disadvantaged households may stay away even after schools reopen in June.
One social worker who looks out for such children said it was difficult to ascertain what students were doing at home during this period, since home visits have stopped during the pandemic.
Assistant Director of Care Corner Youth Services, Martin Chok said, “We are unsure of what they are doing at home. They could be gaming more, they could even be sneaking out as well. As what we understand from some parents, some of the adolescents have been caught on the streets.”
He added that some children were waking up at 2pm and missing the home-based lessons.
Associate Professor at the National Institute of Education Jason Tan said a major worry was that students would not be able to adjust when schools reopen.
“Many countries have expressed concern about the real possibility of educational inequalities being exacerbated by extended school closures,” said Assoc Prof Tan.
He added that students from vulnerable homes should try to return to school during the school closures.
“At the very least, they will be supervised by school teachers, and they will have a safe, structured and conducive learning environment within school," he said.
“Schools have to be able to convince parents that all the necessary precautionary health and safety measures are in place, to minimise the health risks that the children may be facing should they return to school.”
Currently, more than 4,000 primary, secondary and junior college students are continuing to go to school during the circuit breaker period - that is about 1 per cent of students.
Schools have also loaned out more than 20,000 computing devices and 1,200 Internet-enabling devices to students, according to MOE.