by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by BERNAMA
PUBLIC schools nationwide are in dire need of immediate funds that are necessary to procure coronavirus-related protective products as they welcome back millions of students since the initiation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) in mid-March.
Among the most basic mandatory requirements are electronic thermometers and hand sanitisers that are supposed to be positioned at all entrances and key points, apart from additional expenses for regular disinfecting exercises to keep all the students safe and as insulated as possible from any possible Covid-19 outbreak.
“At the moment, teachers and school administrations have to be creative with whatever resources they have to meet all the requirements that would keep the students safe,” said a teacher who did not want to be named.
Last week, Senior Minister (Education) Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin announced in a televised address that primary and secondary schools nationwide are set to open in phases, beginning July 15.
The first phase of schools’ reopening took place on June 24 for 500,444 students in over 2,500 schools who are taking their public examinations this year.
The second phase will begin next Wednesday (July 15) involving students from Form 6 (Semester 1), Form 1 to Form 4 in the secondary schools, and Year 5 and Year 6 for primary schools, as well as remove classes.
Mohd Radzi said the third phase starts on July 22, involving Year 1 to Year 4 pupils.
“The decision to reopen schools for students of other educational levels in stages was made following advice from the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the National Security Council (NSC),” he said during the special address.
Since the announcement, school administrations across the country have been scrambling to get everything set up according to the earlier guidelines that were provided by the ministry.
“However, as we progress, we have to make way for changes that are included in updated SOPs (standard operating procedures) that are distributed along the way. Each of the changes (is extra) cost and we are not really endowed with the right budget,” another educationist said.
All the extra expenses have forced schools to reach out to their respective parent teacher associations (PTAs), alumni bodies and private sponsors to provide financial support.
Several schools are demanding for more handheld infrared thermometers to cope with the anticipated higher volume of traffic during peak school arrival times.
“According to the SOPs, one thermometer should be allocated for every 50 students. Each thermometer cost around RM300. Imagine the amount each school with an average of 1,000 students has to fork out to meet the requirement,” another teacher said.
Other items in need include hand sanitisers, dispensers, hand soaps and disposable face masks. However, requests differ depending on to the school’s size and budget.
The Malaysian Reserve learned that one school in Shah Alam currently has 10 infrared thermometers stationed at two of its main gates — eight for students and two for teachers.
While that seems more than enough, the school is expected to receive up to 700 students at peak time come July 15. That means one thermometer, on average, would have to scan up to 87 students.
To make the task even more difficult, the school — like many others — has only 15 minutes to complete the exercise in order to get students in class on time. More thermometers would definitely help speed up the procedure, one teacher said.
Another school, located nearly 20km away, currently has four infrared thermometers and will require more to welcome back over 1,000 students next week.
The school has so far utilised a mix of its own fund and contributions from the PTA, as well as private donors in obtaining the screening devices and small bottles of hand sanitisers at each classroom.
SMK Shah Alam PTA president Mohdan Amran said his school is fortunate to have sufficient reserves and strong community support to acquire the necessary protective tools.
“If the school had to depend on its annual PTA collection this year of RM100 from each family, it would have been difficult.
“The PTA set the amount at RM100, prior to the MCO. But with the school calendar cut short and co-curricular activities suspended, it is likely that the amount will have to be reduced. Luckily for us, we have enough from last year that was carried over,” he said.
Mohdan said there are plans to set up makeshift counters at the school gate according to classes to ease movement when students arrive. However, the plan would require more handheld thermometers and manpower. Currently, teachers are put on duty at the gate on a rotational basis.
Mohdan said schools will also have to provide disinfectant products for contract cleaners to perform frequent disinfection on heavily trafficked exposed surfaces such as desks, chairs, doors and handrails at stairways.
Without PTA support and contributions from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and businesses, he believed that it would be a challenge for schools, especially in rural and suburban areas, to adhere to the standard guidelines.
National PTA president Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Ali Hassan said the Ministry of Education (MoE), local communities, NGOs and corporations can step forward to offer financial assistance as not all schools have the capacity to prepare themselves as required by the authorities.
“Local community leaders or the private sector could also offer a lending hand to help equip schools and protect our children from the virus.”
Mohd Ali said schools can also opt for cheaper alternatives that could adequately serve their purpose.
The MoE said it has released additional provisions to all states for the procurement of temperature screening devices. It added that the standard procedures stated in its guideline were vetted by the MoH and the NSC, thus, all schools are required to comply. Changes will only be made upon recommendations by the MoH.