Editorial Notes

We cannot afford to lose a generation: The Star editorial

The paper says the authorities must clarify Covid-19 guidelines in schools to empower schools to deal with the effects of the pandemic directly.

A student wearing a protective mask looks out from a classroom, as schools reopen amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Kuala Lumpur on March 1, 2021.
A student wearing a protective mask looks out from a classroom, as schools reopen amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Kuala Lumpur on March 1, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With the rising number of Covid-19 clusters detected in educational institutions, parents are understandably in two minds about sending their children to school.

School administrators are also finding it extra challenging to deal with the situation, and adding to their already heavy workload in ensuring the safety of their teachers and students, they are now getting calls from concerned parents asking about the situation in schools based on information they get by word of mouth and on social media instead of official announcements.

Some parents are even demanding the return of virtual classes amid growing concerns over children attending face-to-face classes.

However, we also need to understand the Education Ministry's predicament. A blanket closure of schools is not the answer.

Data shows that we cannot afford to keep children out of school for too long if we are to avoid what Unicef (United Nations Children's Fund) has described as a "lost generation".

As educationists and child development experts have pointed out, a prolonged closure of schools can and have had adverse consequences for children's intellectual, social and personal development.

The impact is particularly severe on the most vulnerable and marginalised children, many of whom have fewer educational opportunities outside of school.

Many young children, especially the underprivileged, have had essential learning such as basic 3R literacy skills interrupted, and this can lead to irreversible harm to their education development. It has also been reported that the disruption to schooling has led to older students dropping out, putting their future at risk.

What is clear is that with the challenges the schools are facing now, the authorities must clarify Covid-19 procedures and guidelines in schools, not just to reassure parents but to empower schools themselves to deal with the effects of the pandemic directly instead of having to wait for directives from district education offices on the next course of action, especially closures, if a case is detected.

For instance, to minimise the risk of infection and to maintain physical distancing among students, schools should be allowed to determine how many children can be present at any one time. Students and staff can take turns to come in on alternate days as a temporary measure until cases at school come down.

At the same time, to eliminate fear among parents and to be more transparent, the Education Ministry should consider providing daily updates on Covid-19 cases in schools, such as naming which schools have cases and how many.

Parents too have to play their part, not just in ensuring the safety of their children but also others when conducting themselves outside the home. They cannot afford to be negligent about adhering to the SOP and exposing themselves to to the virus.

It only takes one careless parent to carry the infection home to his or her child who will then spread the virus in school. Basically, parents have become frontliners in this situation. Crucially, the government needs to continue strengthening the online learning system in schools while increasing the digital access to underprivileged children.

This includes enhancing the content and broadcasting period of DidikTV KPM that was launched in February this year, as well increasing TV Pendidikan slots broadcast on RTM via TV Okey in Sabah and Sarawak, and making Tutor TV on Astro more widely accessible to the B40 (low income) group. Remote learning can help students keep on track if they miss days at school and the system should be ready to pick up the slack if schools have no other choice but to close entirely.

We cannot afford to let our children fall behind or, worse, become part of a "lost generation".

  • The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.