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Home-based learning for entire level no longer default approach when COVID-19 cases discovered in schools

Home-based learning for entire level no longer default approach when COVID-19 cases discovered in schools

Students at Holy Innocents' Primary School. (Photo: Facebook/Chan Chun Sing)

  • Previously, the whole affected level would be put on home-based learning
  • Now, close contacts and students from the same classes or CCA groups will be placed on leave of absence or quarantine order instead
  • Teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated will be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks under the new vaccinate or regular test regime 

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Education (MOE) will “fine tune” its response to COVID-19 cases in schools to “minimise the disruptions” while keeping students safe, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Friday (Aug 13). 

Since early August, the ministry has moved towards a “more targeted approach” that affects a more narrowly defined group of students whenever there is a positive COVID-19 case in school, he wrote in a Facebook post. 

“This means that where possible, we will place close contacts and students from the same classes or CCA groups under LOA (leave of absence) or QO (quarantine order), instead of putting the entire level on HBL. The disruptions are further minimised this way,” Mr Chan said. 

He added that moving forward, the ministry is exploring options for less-invasive testing methods to further minimise disruptions to children and families.

The ministry has implemented full home-based learning twice so far, he said in his post. 

“However, Full HBL has its limitations and is disruptive to students, parents and teachers. It is not a sustainable option and must be our last resort,” he wrote. 

Between May and July this year, MOE took a “more targeted approach” by placing entire levels on home-based learning when there were confirmed cases in schools. 

In that time, 216 students of the 600,00-strong student population were infected with COVID-19, most of them from household transmission, said Mr Chan. 

Of the 216 students, 103 were from primary schools, he added. 

“But even with the HBL limited to specific levels, the disruption to student learning and family schedules is still quite significant,” Mr Chan wrote. 

MORE THAN 20,000 STUDENTS AFFECTED

Over the past three months, 100 levels across 50 schools were placed on home-based learning at different times and for varying periods, affecting more than 20,000 students, he said. 

None of these students tested positive for COVID-19 as all close contacts had already been placed on leave of absence or quarantine orders, said Mr Chan. 

“With more evidence pointing to the efficacy of our previous measures and as we transit towards living with COVID-19 as an endemic situation, we will fine tune measures further to minimise the disruptions while keeping our children safe,” he wrote in his post. 

Where possible, schools will no longer place entire levels on home-based learning as a default when there is a positive COVID-19 case, said MOE in a separate press release on Friday. 

Instead, it will focus on placing close contacts and students from the same classes or CCA groups on leave of absence or quarantine orders, the press release read. 

“This approach will allow the rest of the students and teachers in the level and school to continue with classes in school and minimise disruption, while safeguarding their health and safety,” said the Education Ministry in the press release. 

“Placing more classes or levels on HBL remains an option should there be a risk of transmission beyond close contacts. Our schools will also continue to monitor the health of students and staff more closely as an additional precaution.”

REGULAR TESTING FOR UNVACCINATED TEACHERS

Testing would allow the Education Ministry to be “much more targeted” in deciding who should stay away from school and for how long, said Mr Chan. 

With more regular and faster testing using self-administered Antigen Rapid Tests (ART), students and staff who are tested negative can return to school earlier. 

“As new scientific evidence emerges and we accumulate more experience, we will further calibrate the suite of measures and apply them based on the circumstances, to keep our schools and children safe. Where necessary, we will tighten the measures, balancing the considerations for risk management with the impact of the disruptions,” he wrote. 

All unvaccinated teachers and staff who have regular contact with students aged 12 and below will be tested for COVID-19 twice a week as part of the new “vaccinate or regular test” regime from Oct 1. 

This will apply to staff who are not fully vaccinated, unvaccinated or medically ineligible to take the COVID-19 vaccines, said MOE. 

The new regime will apply to all of its staff since they are public sector employees, said the ministry. 

MOE will also extend the coverage of the regime to all staff who are not government employees but have regular contact with students aged 12 and below, the press release read. 

This includes settings outside of school, like tuition and enrichment centres, student care centres, as well as school bus drivers and attendants, said the Education Ministry. 

The vaccinate or regular test regime was announced by co-chair of the multi-ministry task force Gan Kim Yong on Aug 6. 

The regime will apply to individuals in industries that interact with customers in high-risk mask-off settings, such as at Singapore’s borders or COVID-19 frontline work will also be subject to this regime. Other sectors include food and beverage establishments, gyms and fitness studios, and personal care services.

"This will help to protect them, their colleagues and the people they serve in the course of their work," said co-chair of the task force Lawrence Wong.

The Government will subsidise these COVID-19 tests for those who remain medically ineligible for vaccines.

As part of the national fast and easy testing regime, a smaller group of staff will also have to be tested regularly even if they are fully vaccinated because they are involved in higher-risk activities, said MOE in the press release. 

This includes contract cleaners and school canteen operators, as well as PE teachers who conduct mask-off activities in school. 

From Sep 3, cleaners at tuition and enrichment centres that cater to students aged 12 and below will also be included in this group, said the Education Ministry. 

Tuition and enrichment centres can register for fast and easy testing at https://go.gov.sg/tuition-enrichment-fet.

“In schools, teachers and staff will continue to be vigilant due to the infectious nature of the current variant and send students who display even mild symptoms home,” Mr Chan wrote. 

“Even so, this will not mean zero cases in schools, as long as there continues to be cases in our community. But we will do our best and remain watchful so that students can keep learning in school.”

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Source: CNA/hw(ac)

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