KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — Former education minister Maszlee Malik has urged the Education Ministry to address the trust deficit among the rakyat over its ability to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the recent decision by the ministry to reopen all schools nationwide on September 1 was universal for all schools, without taking into account scientific data and the differences in needs between urban, rural, and interior schools.
“This deficit towards the ministry is most serious, and indeed among teachers the pressures they face are very worrying,” Maszlee said in a Facebook post.
A similar scenario is also being faced by parents and students, due to a lack of orderly and strategic planning and implementation by the ministry.
“I have been contacted by many quarters, be it from educators, district education offices, the National Registration Department (NRD) and even by parents, all who are worried by the ministry’s rushed decision.
“They have several key concerns, such as the new infection and death rates from Covid-19 which are still in the five-figure mark for several consecutive weeks, which will take time to lower and stabilise,” he said.
Maszlee added that many parents are fearful of letting their children attend school in this instance, as many feel the health and lives of the students should be a priority for the ministry since those under 18 will not be vaccinated.
“Additionally the 2021 school year has only two months left in its calendar, thus the decision to reopen schools involves readying students to do so which places additional costs onto parents.
“This decision will burden those parents who are still struggling with their uncertain economic situation, particularly those in the B40 category and those who have lost employment,” he said.
The Simpang Renggam MP noted that the reopening of schools on September 1 was decided upon without tabling any detailed standard operating procedures (SOP) based on science and data.
“Many parents and teachers are worried this will lead to a repeat of the mistakes when schools reopened in April, which were so numerous that schools were eventually forced to close again after only two weeks. This only served to further disrupt the education of our children.
“Many teachers are also asking why the ministry must rush its decision to announce the reopening of schools on September 1, seeing as how the NRD, district education offices, and themselves have made many improvements to the Teaching and Learning at Home (PdPR) method in the past 16 months. The results of the SPM examinations last year is a clear indication that PdPR can be implemented,” he said.
Maszlee also highlighted the programme to distribute 150,000 laptop computers to poor students, which has yet to be completed.
“This has led many parents to wonder why the ministry is rushing to reopen schools. Is this being done as an excuse to not complete the remaining distribution of computers that were promised?
“Nonetheless, I feel that many teachers and parents are rational and can agree to the reopening of schools, under several conditions,” he said.
These include the tabling of special SOPs meant for students in the non-vaccinated category, while in schools and outside of it, based on science and data.
“The ministry must complete the vaccination process for teachers and school workers, without exception. The safety and prosperity of teachers and school workers, including canteen staff and security guards, must be given priority regardless of any decision made.
“Likewise the ministry must review and permit the vaccination programme for students sitting for the SPM, STAM and STPM exams, on a voluntary basis. Many parents would be able to agree with allowing their children back in schools, once they have been vaccinated,” he said.
Other conditions include ensuring that unvaccinated students with family members who have received the first dose at least, will be allowed to attend school in order to prevent school-related clusters.
“The ministry should also discuss with the National Union of the Teaching Profession, the West Malaysia Teachers’ Association, the School Principals Council, the Coalition of School Principals Councils, parents’ associations, and the Malaysian Paediatric Association, before making any decisions related to the issue.
“If the ministry insists on reopening schools it needs to make sure this is done in phases, with priority given to rural and interior schools, followed by schools in green zones, and then schools in areas where the vaccination rate is higher than the herd immunity rate,” Maszlee said.
He advocated for a rotational school schedule, which can help to avoid congestions in schools and a repeat of clusters.
“For example, level one in primary schools can run on Monday and Wednesday, level two on Tuesday and Thursday. For secondary schools, Forms One and Two on Monday and Wednesday, Forms Three and Four on Tuesday and Thursday. The schools should be allowed discretion in order to reduce the number of students in schools every day.
“Whatever the decision taken by the ministry, autonomy should be given to the schools to formulate whatever they deem to be the best decision within their locality, based on guidance from all stakeholders as well as the National Security Council,” Maszlee said.