PUTRAJAYA, June 23 — A total of 500,444 students from 2,440 secondary schools who will be sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Vokasional Malaysia (SVM),  Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) and Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) examinations, as well as international examinations, will resume their school sessions tomorrow which have been postponed for almost three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following are some questions and answers recorded during a recent special interview between Senior Minister (Education) Dr Radzi Jidin with media representatives, particularly on the ministry’s preparations and the role of parents and teachers in ensuring the health and safety of the students and teachers.

Q: When was the planning for the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the re-opening of school started?

A: We started to work on this (the SOP) in early April, as soon as the movement control order took effect on March 18. We discussed the main components in the detail with the stakeholders, basically with Health Ministry and National Security Council (MKN).

I went to visit the schools to make sure the SOP can be implemented. I started with two schools, with the senior management of the Education Ministry, and then I called in the Health Director-General (Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah) and the MKN director-general (Mohd Rabin Basir) to follow me to the schools. Then, the Health Ministry said that the SOP was good and they believed that we can re-open the schools.

Q: Why choose Wednesday to restart the school session instead of Monday?

A: This is basically for strategic purposes. For us, this is a big exercise to get the 500,000 students to school. Yes, we tried out the SOP and it looked like it works very well.  For Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Johor, the school session is on Wednesday and Thursday, while for the rest of the states, it is from Wednesday to Friday. The reason is if anything goes wrong or if we need to improve our SOP, our team will work it out over the weekend.

We purposely picked out that day, because if there is any improvement that we need to make to the SOP or any of the processes, then we have the weekend. At least we have a two-day window to look at any specific issues we need to address. If we start on Monday, then we will be going for five straight days, there’s no gap at all.

Q: Regarding the SOP, will there be changes from time to time?

A: The SOP will be continuously assessed because no one knows if it will work or not, nor can anyone predict what will happen. We are not subject to a set time frame to conduct a review.

Let say that among the 2,000-odd schools that will be opened, there are 10 issues that must be given attention, so we will look into these issues, then we will add some improvements to the SOP. So, yes, the SOP will continuously be improved from time to time as this is the first time it is being implemented.

Q: What about the level of compliance with the SOP?

A: I have asked everyone, including myself, the deputy minister, senior ministry officials, as well as staff of the State Education Department (JPN) and district education offices  (PPD) to visit the schools unannounced. This is not to punish anyone, not at all. It is for us to see for ourselves the preparations that are being done.

The schools will have their own methods (to ensure SOP compliance) and decide which teachers would be responsible for monitoring because this whole thing requires the involvement of teachers, parents, and also the students. The schools must fine-tune task details for their teachers.

Q: Students will return to school with the new normal, will this burden the teachers who have to monitor their movement in school?

A: We are aware that in the present context, the responsibilities (of teachers) have changed slightly, but I only want to say that this is the new normal, nobody has faced a situation like this before, we all need to cope.

If previously, the class has 40 or 35 students, but now we will have only 20 students to allow social distancing. This has never happened before...this is a new situation and I am confident that the teachers fully understand the situation, and it also needs cooperation from all quarters, not just the teachers, but also the students.

Q: What about the role of parents?

A: We really appreciate the key role that parents play in ensuring that their unwell children are not sent to school. Parents are more aware of their children’s health status. They must take the initiative to seek medical treatment should their children need it. Yes, we will have a mechanism to monitor the students at school, but (if the unwell children came to school), the risks would be higher.

Everyone has a different role to play now. For instance, for the morning session, we may allow the students to come at a different time during the first week. Looking at the trends, we see that parents are keen on sending and picking up their children to school rather than allowing them to take public transport. So we will look at the possibility to allow the students to come to school in stages, at different times of the day, like the fifth formers will come in at a certain time, sixth formers at another time, so that the roads are not congested.

Q: What about social distancing for teachers in school?

A: Teachers’ rooms are usually quite full and congested, but in order to observe social distancing, other rooms such as the resource centres and school libraries can be used as teachers’ rooms. Most of the schools that we visited have started to move some of the teachers to other rooms which can be used, so there is no problem with social distancing for teachers. — Bernama