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Singapore — Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has responded to concerns raised by parents on the gradual process of reopening schools as the country shifts out of the circuit breaker from June 2.

Mr Ong took to Facebook on Thursday (May 21) to address the top three questions raised by parents on the reopening of classes.

There have been some concerns following the announcement to reopen schools come 2 June. Here are my answers to the top 3…

Posted by Ong Ye Kung on Thursday, May 21, 2020

In response to parents who were concerned about their children having to wear face masks for the whole day, Mr Ong explained that the only options to choose from are a face mask or a face shield. “Teachers will help the young children get used to the masks or shields with time,” he said. Students will have to wear one or the other.

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Another pressing question was raised by parents who will be returning to work on June 2. Under the new rotation scheme, different batches of students will take turns switching from home-based learning (HBL) to live classes. Working parents will, therefore, have to make additional arrangements especially for younger children who cannot be left alone at home. Mr Ong expressed the hope that families can come up with workable arrangements on the matter. He also urged companies with employees who have young children to grant them work from home arrangements as much as possible.

However, in cases where parents are “really unable” to put in place the necessary arrangements, Mr Ong said they could seek help from their children’s schools because “schools will be prepared to extend limited care to young students on HBL but without childcare arrangements”.

The final concern he addressed was that of parents who did not feel safe sending their children to school. Given the circumstances, many asked Mr Ong if they could instead opt to do HBL. His response was: “(U)nless there are specific concerns arising from medical conditions, we cannot make attending school voluntary.”

Mr Ong provided three main reasons for this decision. First, he argued that children cannot be left home the entire time the world waits for a Covid-19 vaccine. “The impact on their socio-emotional and mental well-being will be serious,” he said.

Second, he argued that should this be allowed, the system would foster segregation among students and be unsustainable for the teachers. “(A) voluntary system for parents is not good for the morale of both students and teachers,” he wrote.

Finally, he argued that as Singapore will begin to gradually ease the circuit breaker measures from June 2, people will be allowed to step out of the house. “(A) large proportion of transmission to children has been from their family members,” he said, pointing out the faulty reasoning in the idea that children are completely safe from Covid-19 just because they do not go to school. /TISG

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