129 Students & 17 Staff Infected, But HBL Has High Cost: Minister

Most social media users would’ve seen school circulars circulating over Covid-19 cases among students and staff.

Together with the Punggol Primary cluster, these reports would cause some anxiety to parents, especially if they don’t know the whole picture.

Now, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing has revealed statistics that a total of 146 people in schools have tested positive in the last 3 months – 129 students and 17 staff.

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Despite the infections, he assured parents that Singapore’s schools are still safe places for learning.

0.03% of student population has been infected: Chan

In a Facebook post on Friday (30 Jul), Mr Chan also put these figures into perspective.

Though 129 students were unfortunately infected, they represent just 0.03% of Singapore’s total student population from primary school to pre-university.

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With risk management, continued learning has been possible, and the average attendance rate has been comparable to pre-Covid times, he added.

Chan acknowledges parents’ views on HBL

Mr Chan also acknowledged that there are some parents who wish for Singapore schools to go back to full Home-Based Learning (HBL).

That’s probably considering we did that on 19 May, during the previous period of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), which was triggered by a smaller surge in cases.

However, there are some parents who’re also against going to full HBL.

He said these “mixed views” are “understandable”.

HBL comes at high cost: Chan

Mr Chan warned that a prolonged spell of full HBL comes at a high cost to learning.

Another aspect of concern would be schoolchildren’s socio-emotional and mental well-being, he added.

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Part of the reason is because not all homes have conducive environments for HBL.

With full HBL, many parents would need to make alternative arrangements for someone to take care of their children while they undergo HBL – this may not be ideal.

Additionally, he pointed out, HBL would also mean that teachers would need to handle the additional demands of preparing and conducting online lessons.

This would be on top of caring for their own families.

The bottom-line is, the disruption to normalcy could cause “fear, stress and despair”, said the minister, and this would come with long-term consequences.

Minister outlines ‘targeted approach’ in schools

Thus, as a parent, Mr Chan told his fellow parents that Singapore’s schools are still “safe places for learning”.

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To keep them safe, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will adopt a “targeted approach”, he added.

Safe management measures (SMMs) have been implemented to reduce the risks of transmission.

Surveillance measures will be used to detect potential cases as soon as possible.

Schools will also ringfence cases that crop up by isolating close contacts of that case. A Leave of Absence (LOA) or Quarantine Order (QO) will be issued so they don’t come back to school.

When the situation is unclear – in exceptional cases, he added – the entire school may be put on HBL.

This is to break any possible chain of transmission and give the authorities time to test and investigate the case.

Guidelines in line with transit towards endemic Covid-19

Parents may still have concerns over their children’s safety in school.

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However, Mr Chan said we’re unlikely to have zero community cases in the near future.

MOE’s guidelines are thus in line with Singapore’s guidelines as we transition towards living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease.

They will be reviewed and adjusted based on close monitoring of the situation.

Students must observe safety measures strictly

No parent wants the safety of their child to be compromised while they’re at school – a place that’s supposed to be safe.

Thus, the 146 infections will worry them, as it’s been proven that Covid-19 can and will spread in school.

However, as full HBL for all isn’t coming soon, parents will have to teach their children to observe safety measures strictly.

With any luck, we can keep school infections to a minimum.

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Featured images adapted from Foursquare, Google Maps and Google Maps.