Editorial | Act prudently so that schools can reopen safely

Government’s direction so far appears to be for schools to reopen on 28 September. This is commendable but to do so it has to ensure that strict hygiene and safety protocols are introduced. Discipline must be emphasised


There is a lot of value in classroom teaching that cannot be ignored in any decision that will be taken on the reopening of schools next month.

While online teaching served a useful purpose when schools were closed in March as part of restrictive measures imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is evident that on its own it is not enough.

Learning is not just about academic achievement. Classrooms and schools provide invaluable social interaction and life experiences that enrich children.

Prolonged isolation of children at home will not only weaken their academic knowledge but impoverish their social and personal growth.

More worryingly, is the negative impact of isolation on those children who come from disadvantaged households, or require specialised help.

These thoughts were articulated perfectly by the Children’s Commissioner this week when she warned that the damage caused by isolation could be far more problematic than the virus.

This does not mean that a properly managed and uniform online learning platform should not be available but online learning cannot substitute the richness and fullness of a classroom education.

But there is also another consideration that has to be made. A lot of working parents have organised their productive life around children’s school hours.

This cannot be underestimated. If schools do not reopen, it will have an economic impact because parents will have to stay home to tend to their children.

In some cases, teleworking can be a solution but this does not apply to everyone and many parents of young children can attest to the fact that productivity levels will be compromised while children are at home.

One of the reasons that spurred Denmark to be one of the first countries during the first wave of the pandemic to reopen schools was to allow parents to go to work or be more productive if using teleworking.

The economic aspect of schools reopening cannot be brushed aside.

Government’s direction so far appears to be for schools to reopen on 28 September. This is commendable but to do so it has to ensure that strict hygiene and safety protocols are introduced. Discipline must be emphasised.

Admittedly, this will not be an easy task, especially in the younger year groups. Social distancing and basic hygiene may be anathema to young children.

This is why protocols have to be reasonable and well explained to parents, children and educators. A nationwide educational campaign is necessary.

No system will be perfect and it is to be expected that COVID-19 cases among school children will crop up.

The important thing is that protocols dealing with such situations must be clear to all and more importantly, the education authorities must adopt a transparent approach in these circumstances by communicating clearly with parents, children and educators.

This leader trusts that the health and education authorities will be working on detailed protocols. But they also have to rope in educators to allay fears and address concerns.

Within this context, it is also crucial for the infection rate across the country to go down. Allowing mass events to go ahead, the lack of testing on incoming travellers, and the lax attitude towards social distancing and personal hygiene that was allowed to fester were mistakes that contributed to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

There was always the inevitability of cases going up once the economy reopened but a continued emphasis on discipline and enforcement may have resulted in a less pronounced increase in the infection rate.

The new measures announced a few weeks ago are a step in the right direction. Hopefully this will bring down the R-factor and make it easier to convince people that reopening schools in a safe way is less of a risk than it probably is today.

A collective effort to act prudently now will enable the country to reopen schools in a month’s time.

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