JAKARTA - Schools have been reopening in a number of Indonesian regions this week with health protocols in place, particularly throughout the most populous island of Java as new Covid-19 infections are declining and strict restrictions are gradually eased.
In capital Jakarta, 610 or 11.4 per cent of the city's schools resumed physical classes that last up to four hours on Monday (Aug 30). More than 2,500 schools in Central Java and some in West Java did the same.
The regions have adopted different methods for face-to-face learning. Some schools fill their classes up to 30 per cent of their overall capacity, a stricter precaution than the maximum 50 per cent set by the government. Others have allowed half of their students to come to class, rotating them day to day.
Parents, however, have expressed mixed feelings over children returning to school.
Those supporting the move say that online learning, which was introduced in March last year, has caused children to lose interest in studying and the quality of their education has suffered.
Those against the move are worried about coronavirus spreading in schools as strict safety measures are challenging for students and vaccination coverage for young people is still low.
Mr Nurbertus Wiyoto, a 52-year-old father of three, told The Straits Times that while studying at home his two younger children have missed interactions with their teachers and peers that are necessary for their physical and mental development.
He believes that his 16-year-old daughter, who is studying at a vocational school, needs a lot of practice at school, while his six-year-old son, who attends a kindergarten, can better absorb knowledge when meeting his teachers.
The West Java resident said: "I think now is the time for schools to resume face-to-face learning as the Covid-19 cases have followed a downward trend compared to the past."
His children, assisted by their teachers, can follow safety measures at schools, he added.
But 42-year-old housewife Myke Christina, a mother of three, still opposes the resumption of physical classes, saying that the situation remains unsafe.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, she has banned her children, aged 14 to 17, from playing or exercising with their friends. However, in mid-July they contracted the disease from their grandparents, who were asymptomatic.
"I am still worried. Even when we follow health protocols, we can still get infected," Ms Myke told ST. "As long as there's still an option for attending online classes, we will take that."
Indonesia seeks to vaccinate 26.7 million young people aged 12 to 17, out of the country's 208.3 million targeted population. As at Friday (Sept 3), only 1.89 million, or 7.07 per cent, of the country's targeted youth have been fully vaccinated.
Education, Culture, Research and Technology Minister Nadiem Makarim said last week that while all teachers were required to be inoculated to reopen schools in regions with relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, the students were not.
National coordinator of the Society for Education and Teachers Satriwan Salim, however, disagrees, saying that vaccination for both teachers and students should be the foremost requirement for school reopening.
Student vaccination coverage remains low and only around 54 percent of the 5.6 million teachers have been vaccinated, he said, noting that only when 70 percent of students and teachers have been inoculated, would it be safe to have classes at school again.
"Only those schools that have 70 per cent of their community vaccinated should be carrying out face to face learning," Mr Satriwan told ST.
"We encourage regions to speed up the vaccination programme for teachers and students," he added.
The Indonesian Paediatric Society (IDAI) cited a positivity rate less than 8 per cent, low death rate and high vaccination rate among children that exceeds 80 per cent as indicators that it is safe for schools to hold physical classes.
While supporting "gradual school reopening" for children's development, IDAI chairman Prof Aman Bhakti Pulungan also cautioned that Covid-19 infection can have a severe impact on children, ranging from long Covid, multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MISC-C), and even death.
"People always talk about how stressed children are as they're not coming to school. Actually, children who have been infected by Covid-19 and showed symptoms are also stressed," he said. "If they get MIS-C or long Covid or are isolated and treated at an ICU (intensive care unit), it becomes a nightmare for them."
He noted that from June 21 to Monday (Aug 30), there had been around 100 Covid-19 deaths among children each week.
At least 1,675 Indonesian children have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic hit in March last year, according to IDAI. This figure is believed to be among the highest in the world.
Indonesia recorded 7,797 new Covid-19 infections and 574 deaths on Friday.
The country has reported a total of 4.1 million infections and 134,930 deaths.
Ms Myke said: "My husband and I take pity on our children who lose time to have fun at school. But we feel it's not worth it if they get sick. When they were infected, we were very sad. And we know they can be re-infected."