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By Nurqalby Mohd Reda
KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 -- Several parties especially health and education experts are worried about the possibility of COVID-19 cases spreading in schools when face-to-face teaching and learning is fully implemented.
With 4,868 positive cases and 83 clusters of COVID-19 involving the education sector nationwide from January 1 to yesterday (Tuesday), the people especially parents are anxious so much so some are proposing for all schools be closed and return to home-based teaching and learning (PdPR).
In view of the current situation, there are calls for teachers and school management staff be vaccinated to ensure the continuity of education for students.
Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president, Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the best move to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduced risks at schools is to expedite the dispensing of vaccine to teachers and school management.
"They (teachers and school management) should be given priority like frontliners. The increasing number of clusters among the school population should not be taken lightly and action be should quickly taken to contain the spread of infection to avoid the school learning sessions from being affected,” he said when contacted by Bernama today.
The Education Ministry is trying to ensure 500,000 teachers throughout the country received their vaccine shots under phase two of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme from April 19 and is expected to end by April 5 next year.
However, Immunisation Programme Coordinating Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar said the vaccine for educators would depend on the current supply of vaccines available in Malaysia.
Dr Zainal Ariffin explained that apart from dispensing vaccine, compliance to the standard operating procedures (SOP) should be tightened with the proactive cooperation of parents, students and non-governmental organisations in their respective areas.
"What is even more important now is the compliance and monitoring of SOP to stop the trend of transmissions in schools. So there is no need to close all schools except those with COVID-19 cases for the purpose of sanitation and close contact screening,” he said.
In Selangor, 19 schools were ordered to close on Tuesday following detection of COVID-19 infections while all schools in Miri, Sarawak were closed for 14 days after an increase in cases among teachers and students.
Meanwhile, in managing the uncertainty of COVID-19 cases, the hybrid system is seen as the best approach to reduce infection in schools.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Community Education and Wellbeing Centre lecturer Dr Anuar Ahmad said through the system, pupils will attend school in rotation and thus reduce 50 per cent attendance of pupils in schools.
“For example, Year One, Two and Three students will go to school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday while Year Four, Five and Six pupils to attend school on Tuesday and Thursday.
When there is a positive case of COVID-19 in the school, only the positive group of students will be quarantined and other students go to school as usual after the sanitation process is completed," he said.
He added when the hybrid system is implemented, PdPR can also be implemented simultaneously so that the teaching and learning process is not affected.
He said this system could be implemented continuously until at least 80 per cent of the country's people had been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Teaching Profession of Malaysia (NUTP) president Aminuddin Awang also expressed a similar view, so that the rotation system can be practised to limit the total number of students in schools.
"NUTP recommends that this rotation be made by the MOE for schools in non-risk areas to reduce congestion in order to break the chain of COVID-19 infection.
"Only schools with COVID-19 cases need to be closed for sanitation purposes and NUTP hopes that the closure of these schools will not be made difficult with many procedures that involve many parties," he said.
NMR KK CHW