SINGAPORE: The Government cannot make attendance at school "voluntary" as such a system is not good for the morale of both students and teachers, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (May 21).
In a post on Facebook, Mr Ong addressed some parents' concerns about schools resuming classes on Jun 2, saying that exceptions can only be made for "specific concerns arising from medical conditions".
Singapore is set to exit its "circuit breaker" period on Jun 1, with measures to be progressively lifted in three phases from the next day.
Graduating students at primary and secondary schools - or those in Primary 6 and Secondary 4 and 5 - will resume classes on weekdays when Term 3 begins on Jun 2.
Students in other cohorts - or those in Primary 1 to 5 and Secondary 1 to 3 - will rotate weekly between home-based learning and returning to school for lessons.
For pre-schools, children in Kindergarten 1 and 2 will be allowed to return from Jun 2, followed by those in Nursery 1 and 2 on Jun 8 and infant care and playgroup on Jun 10.
"It is likely that COVID-19 will stay with us for more than a year, and until a vaccine is available.
"We simply cannot keep our children at home for so long," said Mr Ong, adding that it would seriously impact their socio-emotional and mental well-being.
After having brought community transmissions to a "low and controlled level", school should resume with "many precautions", he wrote.
A voluntary system where parents decide whether or not to send their children to school would not be good for the morale of both students and teachers, Mr Ong said.
Such a set-up would segregate students according to those whose families are able to provide care for them at home, and those who are not, he said.
"Teachers will end up having to juggle between classroom teaching and facilitating HBL (home-based learning) for every lesson, which is not sustainable," said Mr Ong.
Additionally, keeping children away from school "does not guarantee" that they will be safe from COVID-19, said Mr Ong.
"Family members have to go to work, and a large proportion of transmission to children has been from their family members, he said.
FACE SHIELDS FOR PRESCHOOL AND PRIMARY SCHOOL STUDENTS
To keep students safe, arrangements will be made for face shields to be distributed to all pre-school and primary school students when the term begins.
Students can wear either a face mask or a face shield when in school or on campus.
"Teachers will help the young children get used to the masks or shields with time. If there are special circumstances, teachers will also exercise flexibility," Mr Ong said.
Parents who are unable to make suitable childcare arrangements with their children going to school on alternating weeks can approach their child's school for assistance, he said.
Schools will be prepared to extend limited care to young students on home-based learning, but without childcare arrangements, said Mr Ong.
READ: Plastic face shields can be used in public, but should be worn with masks to be effective, say experts
Singapore has been actively testing all pre-school and early intervention staff members, in order to reduce the risk of transmission when centres resume full services. About 30,000 staff are expected to be swabbed by May 26.
To date, about 10,400 pre-school staff members have so far tested negative for the coronavirus.
On Thursday, Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) announced that three pre-school staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.
Two of the cases had gone to work after experiencing the onset of symptoms, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in its daily update.
The first - case 29513 - is a 40-year-old Singaporean woman who went to work at My First Skool @ 303 Canberra after experiencing onset of symptoms on Tuesday.
Case 29514, a 58-year-old Singaporean woman, had gone to work at PCF Sparkletots Pre-school @ Gambas after experiencing onset of symptoms, although MOH did not specify when.
The third case, a 34-year-old Singaporean woman, did not go to work after the onset of symptoms. MOH did not say where she works.