SINGAPORE - Distribution of antigen rapid test (ART) kits to all primary school pupils began on Monday (Sept 13) as the children returned to school after their September holidays.
Each pupil is set to receive three test kits.
However, the instructions that were given to pupils from different schools collecting the test kits varied, according to parents The Straits Times spoke to.
Some were told to take one test on Monday and report the result on Tuesday, while others were told to take one and report the result by the end of the week. Others were not told to report results but to take one test in order to get familiar with the procedure.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing had announced the distribution of the test kits to all primary school pupils as part of a four-pronged approach to keep schools safe from Covid-19.
The approach also includes keeping children at home if they are unwell, safe management measures in schools, and ring-fencing known Covid-19 cases and contacts.
In his post, Mr Chan encouraged all families to help pupils do a self-test at home this week, which would "serve as a one-time sweep to assure one another that our children are safe".
In a letter to parents on Monday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said the test kits will allow for a quick test of the pupils when there is possible exposure or suspicion of possible Covid-19 infection.
It also said that the schools would be engaging parents to help them learn how to conduct an ART swab for their child at home, and that the remaining test kits should be kept in a clean and safe place for future use.
Mr Leonard Ng, who has two sons, aged seven and nine, at St Gabriel's Primary School, said his children were told to take a test and report the result to their form teachers by the end of the week.
They were given instructions on how to use the kits, and the younger son's teacher taught them how to use it in class, said Mr Ng, 39, a counsellor at a social service agency.
"But my younger son, Kaleb, said he completely forgot how to use it already," added Mr Ng.
Kaleb took the test after dinner on Monday with his parents' help and tested negative.
He said that it was "uncomfortable, but not painful" and that it was "weird because it made his nose drippy after".
Civil servant Ganesan Maniam, 52, said both his children - Jayashree, 12, and Kavi, 11 - received their kits from their teachers at Concord Primary School, who explained to them how to take the test. They have to report their test results to their form teacher by the end of the week. Both children tested negative on Monday night.
"There was a video shown to them. In Parents Gateway - an online portal for parents - there was also a slide and instructions," he said.
He added that the test kits should have been given out to pupils before the schools closed for the holidays.
"This is to ensure that pupils take the test before coming to school, just in case they test positive upon their return today," he said.
Ms Imelda Gani, 42, who has two sons, aged seven and nine, at Bukit Panjang Primary School, said her children were encouraged to try one kit with help from their parents. They received no instruction to report the results back to the teacher.
"This seems to be more about getting familiar with the process. I've never taken the ART myself, so helping them with it is a new experience," said Ms Gani, an administrative executive.
"The instructions look easy to follow, thanks to the infographics, and some other parents from the school said they had done it today and that it's very easy," she added.
Ms Michelle Ang, who is in her 40s, said her 12-year-old daughter, a Primary 6 pupil at CHIJ Katong Convent, was encouraged to take one test this week and photograph the result. But she was also told that showing the teacher the picture was optional.
"The distribution is all very organised, but I am just wondering about the wasted tests. Why waste a perfectly good test - it seems like the kids are taking it for the sake of taking it," she said.
ST has contacted the Education Ministry for more information on the use of test kits this week.
Some children, such as Mr Mohd Shaifful's 12-year-old son at Townsville Primary, have yet to receive the kits.
Mr Shaifful, 42, a technician, said he is worried about the rising number of Covid-19 cases, as there was a confirmed case last week in the school his son attends.
He suggested that children be asked to take one ART test every week.
Other parents also expressed concern about the cases, but did not want to switch back to home-based learning (HBL).
Mr Ng said: "As a parent, I'm concerned about my kids for sure, but going back to HBL means affecting upcoming exams and parents will not be able to focus on work again. It's something most parents would hope didn't happen, as it also makes it harder for children to learn."
Parents said they are taking other precautions instead, such as limiting going out of the house unless necessary and continuing to stress the importance of personal hygiene such as regularly using sanitiser and washing hands.
Said Ms Ang: "If we meet fewer strangers and go to fewer places, that's better. If my daughter comes into contact with someone infected and ends up being quarantined, then there goes her Primary School Leaving Examination."