COVID-19 SPECIAL

Preparing for a new normal amid Covid-19: Pre-schools make plans to ensure safety when kids return

Children preparing for home-based learning, while sitting 1m apart, at an EtonHouse Pre-School in Mountbatten Road before the circuit breaker.
Children preparing for home-based learning, while sitting 1m apart, at an EtonHouse Pre-School in Mountbatten Road before the circuit breaker.PHOTO: ETONHOUSE

Preparations are under way at pre-schools to reopen their doors to pupils, even as around 30,000 staff, including administrative staff and teachers, undergo mandatory Covid-19 swab tests.

While official guidelines on how schools should operate amid the outbreak have yet to be released, pre-schools The Sunday Times contacted say they are already making their own plans.

Some are exploring "blended learning" - a mix of physical classes in school and home-based learning.

Mr Ng Yi Xian, executive director of the EtonHouse Group, which has children from pre-schools to high schools, said it is looking at staggering school timings, splitting groups of children and staff to ensure physical distancing, and organising schedules around alternate school days and home-based learning.

The range of measures may be implemented differently across schools. "Even with the lifting of the circuit breaker, we understand that social distancing and health and safety measures to mitigate the virus will continue to be our priority," said Mr Ng.

"We are also awaiting specific guidelines from the regulatory bodies on any additional measures that may be required."

Kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education will reopen on June 2, and lessons will resume at primary, secondary and pre-university schools, as well as special education schools. The format of lessons will be given later, whether face to face, online or a mixture of both.

As for other pre-schools, the Early Childhood Development Agency said it will announce at a later date when they can resume full services.

Mr Peh Yi Han, chief operating officer of Global EduHub, said that when it gets the green light, lessons will resume with precautions.

The company operates pre-schools Mulberry Learning, Little Green House and Alphabet Playhouse.

"Children will be put in smaller groups where applicable," he said. "Previously, larger class sizes may go up to 20 to 25 children. Now we will have no more than 10 children per group."

 
 

BIG CONCERN

When they are at home and with us, it's fine. But in school, there is peer pressure. It just takes one 'cool kid' to snub safe distancing rules... Hopefully the kids will be monitored closely.

MRS JACINDA LIU, who has two children in Primary 3 and 4.

Extensive cleaning and sanitisation of premises will also be done, besides implementing digital check-in system SafeEntry, which is compulsory for pre-schools.

Children over the age of two and all staff will need to wear masks while in school, said Mr Peh. "We will need to encourage the children to wear the masks and work with parents to get them into the habit," he added.

 
 
 

While studies have indicated that children contract the coronavirus less often and with less severity, parents have concerns.

Mr Airani Aine, 54, who has three children in pre-school and primary school, said he is worried that social distancing may not be correctly observed. "Once they meet their friends, who knows what will happen? We can't expect teachers to keep an eye on them all the while," said Mr Airani, who works in the construction sector.

Private tutor Monique Holdorff, 35, who has three children in pre-school and primary school, wonders how schools will enforce the wearing of masks. "Primary school pupils have dedicated desks, but pre-school children share tables, and sit on the floor during activities like story time," she said.

Parents with older children are just as worried.

Mrs Jacinda Liu, 35, who has two children in Primary 3 and 4, said: "When they are at home and with us, it's fine. But in school, there is peer pressure. It just takes one 'cool kid' to snub safe distancing rules... Hopefully the kids will be monitored closely."

Mrs Liu, who works in a bank, added: "Schools will have to also implement disinfecting and hand-washing procedures well and drill hygiene rules into the kids."

Ms Holdorff said she will be glad to send her children back to school, with precautions in place. "They are bored at home. As much as we try to engage them, they want to play with their friends, see their teachers," she said. "When they are in school, I can focus on my work."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 17, 2020, with the headline 'Pre-schools make plans to ensure safety when kids return '. Subscribe