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Covid-19: PN must treat teachers as frontliners and vaccinate them immediately

Press statement by MP for Kota Kinabalu and DAP Sabah Secretary, Chan Foong Hin on 21 April 2021:

 

Ministry of Education ought to allow schools to make decisions independently, dire necessity for transparency of infection data & vaccination of teachers

 

Democratic Action Party (DAP) Member of Parliament for Kinabalu Chan Foong Hin said in a statement today urged the Ministry of Education to draw up clear guidelines so that parents have the right to choose not to send their children back to school as more and more schools in the Kota Kinabalu District reported confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Chan further stated that at the same time, the data on Covid-19 confirmed cases in schools ought to be handled transparently whereby official announcements ought to be made and not by way of circulating WhatsApp text messages within the community.

“News were widely spread within the community in Kota Kinabalu that several schools had notified parents after a student tested positive for Covid-19, and that the same had affected other teachers and students as they had to be arranged by the Ministry of Health to undergo screening. 

“So far, the DAP Kota Kinabalu’s Unit Tindak has conducted disinfection work for two schools in a row recently, with the permission of the school,” said Chan.

 
Unit Tindak DAP Kota Kinabalu conducting disinfection at classrooms
 

Chan, who is also the secretary of DAP Sabah, then criticized the Minister and two Deputy Ministers of the Ministry of Education for failing to heed or answer to the concerns of parents, teachers and students. 

“These ministers and deputy ministers have been seen to be shirking in their duties, refusing to commit and make a clear response when dealing with the problem of rising positive cases of Covid-19 in schools, leading to more new cases and even the creation of new school clusters due to their utter negligence!”

“Now, what parents are most concerned about is whether they have the right not to send their children back to school once a case of Covid-19 is reported. On February 27, Minister of Education Radzi Jidin directed that unless there is a doctor’s medical certificate, parents still need to send their children to class. However, his Deputy Minister Mah Hang Soon said a few days ago that the Ministry of Education has never forced parents to send their children back to school during the pandemic. Why the contradictory announcement? In the end, are parents supposed to listen to the deputy minister or to the minister?” said Chan.

Chan said he was made to understand that the current policy of the Ministry of Education in dealing with the pandemic is that schools will not be closed, but classrooms with confirmed cases will be closed and screening will be conducted. 

 
Unit Tindak DAP Kota Kinabalu conducting disinfection at classrooms
 

However, after speaking with a few school headmasters, Chan found out that in actual fact schools are unable to speedily close the classrooms with confirmed cases as a result of hierarchical bureaucracy – schools often are made to wait for instructions from the district’s Education Department and the Health Department, but in the meantime are barred from disclosing any information to others, including parents of other students in the class.

“Covid-19 has been raging in the country for more than 16 months now, and yet till now the Ministry of Education has not yet been able to sort out a mechanism to deal with what should be done when there is an increase of positive cases in classes and schools!” said Chan.

In view of this, he proposed that the Ministry of Education implement the following measures to respond to the epidemic in a scientific, data and pragmatic manner:

Firstly, decentralization of decision-making powers to schools, including the principal, the board of directors, and the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA), so as to enable them to independently decide whether to close classrooms or even the entire school within the framework of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) prepared by the Ministry of Health. Don’t go through layer after layer of bureaucratic works. Since the bureaucrats dare not act decisively, it is better to let the individual schools make their own decisions.

Secondly, we must ensure that all information and data related to Covid-19 cases in schools be open and transparent, and communicated to parents as soon as possible. This can prevent unverified rumours from being spread in the community, causing panic among parents, teachers and students.

Thirdly, treat teachers as frontliners and vaccinate all teachers immediately to cut off the possible chain of infection as far as possible. When a student is found positive, it is easy to track down the classrooms and students that they have close contact with; On the other hand, when a teacher is found positive, more than one class will be affected. Teachers are front-line personnel, and the Ministry of Education should promptly and proactively arrange vaccinations instead of waiting for MySejahtera’s arrangements.

Fourthly, develop a more flexible teaching model. Since it has been decided not to close schools as much as possible to prevent children from becoming the “lost generation”, physical teaching and virtual teaching must be mixed to reduce the number of students coming to class, and also reduce the time students spend in class.

Chan concluded by asking the Ministry of Education to not evade but to face the problem upfront, so that the education field would not end up as infected clusters. There are about 500,000 teachers in the country, and the number of primary and secondary school students is about 5.4 million. Together with teachers, the total is 5.9 million, accounting for about 18% of the country’s total population. If the education sector falls to the pandemic, the consequences will be disastrous.

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