SINGAPORE - The two children who tested positive for Covid-19 recently are a timely reminder that precautions are still very much necessary, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said on the first day of school in the new year on Monday (Jan 4).
He said clusters could have easily emerged had the cases been uncovered during the school term, and cautioned that safe distancing must still be observed even in phase three of Singapore's reopening.
"Even in phase three, we maintain all the necessary safe management measures throughout our schools," said Mr Wong, citing health screening at the gates and the exam-style seating arrangements in classrooms.
Two students from Raffles' Girls School had earlier tested positive for the coronavirus. The first student was a family member of an earlier case, a permanent resident who works as a marine surveyor. The second student had visited the first teen at her home for a few hours on a day that the marine surveyor was present.
Mr Wong was speaking during a media visit to Waterway Primary School on the first day of school on Monday, where The Straits Times observed such safe management measures in place.
In primary schools, only Primary 1 (P1) pupils and Kindergarten 1 (K1) children from the Ministry of Education (MOE) Kindergartens were back.
Across Singapore, about 3,500 K1 children and 40,000 P1 pupils attended school on Monday.
Kindergarten 2 and Primary 2 to Primary 6 children remained at home with an extra day of holiday. They will start school on Tuesday.
Special education and secondary schools also reopened on Monday, while junior colleges (JCs) and Millennia Institute (MI) will start on Jan 11.
At Waterway Primary, pupils and accompanying parents were asked to take their temperatures at various stations before entering the school. Only one parent was allowed per child.
Teachers were stationed around the school to direct the children to the gathering points for their respective classes as well.
Mr Wong said the aim is to "ensure that we can keep schools open and safe, and that we can keep learning going throughout the school year".
He added: "We have already seen a lot of disruptions in school life in many other countries last year, and even now, continuing in many places where schools remain closed.
"We do not want that to happen in Singapore and we are determined to make sure that our students can continue to learn, and enjoy learning in our schools in a safe and sustainable manner."
Waterway Primary principal Mrs Wee-Kwan Liam, 62, said that as only the P1 and K1 children were at the school on Monday, there was a lot more manpower and teachers could help the children settle into their classrooms.
"(What is additional) this year is the safety management measures, where the basic approach is about personal hygiene personal responsibility and social responsibility," she said.
Parents were also asked to gather in classrooms where they attended an introduction session by teachers and watched a video address by the principal.
One parent, Mrs Aryany Abdul Manab, 36, said it was good that the teachers could focus on the younger children on the first day of school.
"It's to get them accustomed to a different routine - where to go, what to do... I think it was a good initiative," said Mrs Aryany, who was with her seven-year-old son. She is the principal of a private pre-school.
Six-year-old Jaden Heng was nervous but excited about the first day of school.
He said: "I feel good because I can learn more things. I haven't made any friends yet, but I am excited to meet my classmates."