Students to take PSLE, national exams in enclosed spaces; air purifiers will be used if haze worsens: MOE

Nanhua Primary School students walking to school at around 7.10am on Sept 19, 2019.
Nanhua Primary School students walking to school at around 7.10am on Sept 19, 2019.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - As the haze continues to envelop Singapore with air quality hovering in the unhealthy range, schools are taking precautionary measures by turning on air purifiers.

Teachers are to look out for students with pre-existing lung or heart conditions and ensure that they are moved to enclosed indoor spaces such as the school library, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said.

And as the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) starts on Friday (Sept 20), schools have made arrangements for all candidates to take their papers in enclosed spaces, such as classrooms or halls, the ministry told The Straits Times.

"Air purifiers will also be provided so that it is safe for the examinations to continue, should haze conditions unexpectedly worsen," it said.

The ministry explained that schools are guided to turn on the air purifiers when the air quality hits the "very unhealthy" range.

But they can assess the situation and choose to turn them on earlier when the 1-hour PM2.5 readings are elevated.

There are four bands on the PM2.5 concentration scale: 0 to 55 for normal, 56 to 150 for elevated, 151 to 250 for high, and very high for any higher readings.

The PM 2.5 reading, which measures the average hourly concentration of the main pollutant, is a gauge for immediate activity, whereas the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) measures the average concentration levels of six pollutants, and should be relied on when planning future activities.

The air quality is considered "very unhealthy" when the PSI ranges from 201 to 300.

A PSI reading of zero to 50 indicates good air quality while a reading of 51 to 100 is in the moderate range, and a reading of 101 to 200 is considered unhealthy.

Measures for exams

The MOE also told The Straits Times that there are processes in place to help students who are unwell during national examinations, including those affected by the haze.

The PSLE listening comprehension exams start on Friday, and the written examinations begin next Thursday.

If a pupil cannot sit, or continue with, the examination, his health must take priority, said a spokesman.

"There are existing procedures for schools to escalate the situation to Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board for special consideration so that the candidate will not be penalised."

 
 
 
 

Some parents told The Straits Times they hoped the PSLE would not be rescheduled as it would be disruptive, while some are not taking any chances and have given their children extra supplements and vitamins to help them stay well.

The MOE said affected exam papers will be rescheduled and the exam period extended, if school closures coincide with national examinations like the PSLE.

It had said it will consider closing schools when the air quality forecast for the next day is "hazardous" - when the 24-hour PSI rises above 300.

In 2015, when the PSI readings were near hazardous levels, schools were closed for a day.

What schools and parents are doing

Mr Martin Koh, principal of Henry Park Primary School, said Primary 6 pupils will be taking their exams in air-conditioned spaces like the school hall and classrooms.

"Currently, all classrooms are equipped with air purifiers and teachers are briefed on how they can support children who are affected by the haze," he said. "Internally, there is a team monitoring the PSI reading and will advise the student body when necessary."

He added that the school has cancelled an outdoor event - Mid Autumn Lantern Festival - for Primary 1 and 2 pupils that was meant to take place on Friday.

Westwood Primary School principal Ng Yeow Ling said it is monitoring pupil and staff well-being, especially security guards and cleaners who work outdoors. They are advised to take breaks, rest indoors, and, if needed, use the masks that are provided.

"The schools have encountered worse haze conditions in the past," he said.

Madam Alicia Lee, who has twin boys in Primary 6, said she is not worried when they are in school because classrooms have air purifiers.

"One of my twins has a sensitive nose. But I trust he can take care of himself... They hope the PSLE will not be postponed due to haze as they want to get over it as soon as possible," said the 41-year-old, who works in customer service.

Madam Joanne Chong, whose daughter is in Primary 6, said: "I told her to drink a lot of water, take probiotics, vitamins... her classmates have been down with cough and fever because of the haze."

The 40-year-old housewife said the haze adds another layer of unease for the children taking the PSLE. "I really pity the kids, they have been studying very hard. It's like being ready to go to battle, and if the exam has to be rescheduled, it's a bit anti-climatic."