KUALA LUMPUR – A big question in many people’s minds, is whether the proposed temporary closure of all schools is a pragmatic move in curbing the spread of COVID-19, which is now seen as increasingly worrying in educational institutions.
This is one of the hotly debated questions in the community, especially among parents and academics, following the current situation which has seen the emergence of clusters at educational institutions involving teachers and students, causing some schools to be ordered to close.
According to Health Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, in a media report, a total of 83 COVID-19 clusters related to the educational sector were reported nationwide from Jan 1 to April 20, involving 4,868 cases.
Meanwhile, data from the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) showed that 49 clusters (59.04 per cent), with 2,617 cases, were still active, while 34 clusters (40.96 per cent), with 2,251 cases, had been declared ended.
Based on the available data, which is seen as worrying, several parties, including the National Parents-Teacher Associations Consultative Council (PIBGN), have proposed to the Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Security Council (MKN) that all schools are closed temporarily.
“Based on the response we received, the majority of parents do not want to send their children to school at this time, for fear of being infected with the virus. Most of them hope that schools will be closed,” said PIBGN president Associate Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Ali Hasan, when contacted by Bernama.
However, will the temporary closure of all schools be the best course of action? What is more, if the school closure is implemented, it is certain that home-based teaching and learning sessions (PdPR) will be the main choice in ensuring the continuous learning process.
This situation is actually quite worrying for academics, considering that the findings of previous studies found that PdPR has caused many students to be left out in learning.
Commenting on the issue of school closures, Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia counselling psychologist, Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Fadzil Che Din, described the proposal to curb COVID-19 infections among teachers and students, as not the best solution at present.
He said that the proposals of several parties, including the PIBGN, on the matter, were deemed too early, as it would create various problems, including aspects of teaching and learning among students.
“Previously, parents did not send their children to school due to having extreme concerns and anxieties. They were afraid due to a lack of information about cases. Were the cases serious? Would this COVID-19 be life threatening and interfere with the growth of their children?
“While for teachers to attend school or not, depends on the situation or their positions,” he said.
He said that if school closures are being implemented and replaced with the PdPR method as applied previously, it is seen to create limitations in student learning sessions.
“When studying at home, these students face parents who have no knowledge or teaching skills. They are unsure, and trying to teach can result in them being stressed.
“Therefore, face-to-face teaching is given priority because teachers are trained and have extensive teaching experience, and it is a loss if the advantages of teachers’ professionalism is not fully utilised,” he said.
Hence, he is of the view that there is no need to close all schools if the number of those at risk is low.
“If we look at the MOH data, that in every 10 classes there is only one affected class, so there is no need to close the entire school.
“We can also use a school-sharing approach. For example, if school A is affected and needs to be closed for sanitation purposes, maybe we can use school B, which is located nearby, to accommodate school A students, where they can continue their lessons,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Leadership and Education Policy, Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Associate Prof Dr Azlin Norhaini Mansor said that the increase in COVID-19 infection cases is expected to be reduced if there are a limited number of schools opened.
She stressed that the most reasonable option is limiting the number of secondary schools, because the students can follow the PdPR more effectively compared with primary school pupils.
Presently, there are 7,780 primary schools with 2.7 million pupils and 2,440 secondary schools with 2 million students.
If PdPR is implemented again, she said that MOE should use the PdPR 1.0 handbook, because it is more suitable for the online school schedule which is not too burdensome for teachers, and allows students to master the subjects taught.
“Even after receiving the vaccine, it is not certain that the situation will return to the way it used to be. The practice of wearing face masks and frequent hand washing, as well as compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) is expected to remain a part of one’s lifestyle, including in schools,” she said.