By Mariam Mokhtar
In Malaysia, high-risk groups like the elderly and those with underlying health issues, live in extended family households.
The facts of the coronavirus pandemic are still evolving and scientists are unsure how children contribute towards the spread of the virus.
A child or teacher could contract an infection at school and spread it to their families.
Is there a risk of causing a spike in coronavirus cases by sending children to school?
Do parents feel confident about their children returning to school?
If you are a teacher, would you feel safe to resume teaching, knowing the precautions which the government claims they will take to prevent the spread of coronavirus at schools?
Children need to return to school to resume their education, reduce their boredom and prevent a deterioration of their mental health; but many parents and teachers worry they could contract coronavirus at school.
Schools have been closed since the mid-term holiday in March; but on 29 April, the Ministry of Health recommended the resumption of activities in the social and educational sectors, and possibly day-care centers.
A number of parents are skeptical. One parent said, "How do you tell an 8-year-old or nursery school child to practice social distancing? After being cooped up for months, they naturally miss their friends and will not understand why they must not touch or approach them.
"Are the proposed measures to protect against the coronavirus transmission adequate? Will the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves be mandatory?"
On 12 May, Education Minister Senator Mohd Radzi Jidin said when schools reopen, class sizes would be reduced from 35 students to 17, to maintain social distancing. Schools with a large number of pupils may have to have classes of 20 students.
He said parents would be given a two-week warning before schools reopen; however, it was reported two days ago that schools will not reopen on 10 June as had been widely predicted. This has brought relief to many parents, but many want their questions answered.
One parent asked, "How are schools going to conduct lessons? Will they have enough sessions in a day to accommodate the extra classes? Where are they going to find the space for the extra classrooms? Our schools are already bursting at the seams.
"Will each year group be divided into morning and afternoon sessions? Are there sufficient numbers of qualified teachers to supervise these extra classes?"
Radzi said food will be packaged and schools will be given guidelines which will stipulate where and when students will eat.
Some parents want to know if children will have to eat packed lunches or whether the school canteen will open. They said school children risk being infected during their break, and they want to know if break times will be staggered to enable social distancing.
Another parent wanted to know if the schools would be cleaned and sanitized, and how regularly this would happen.
One former headmistress asked, "Will the government provide extra funds for the deep cleaning of schools as well as providing adequate supplies of PPE? Schools should be provided with a prompt "testing and tracing" system to contain any transmission of coronavirus."
Some parents wonder if social distancing will affect laboratory work, sports, and physical education lessons.
Others expressed concern about transport to schools. Not every pupil is driven to school by their parents or chauffeurs, so will social distancing be practiced on school buses or public transport? Who will enforce this?
A few parents wondered if students would have their temperatures monitored before entering the school buildings. Others wondered about the contingency plans, should a student or teacher fall ill with coronavirus.
Would the whole school be closed and for how long? What if a child does not show obvious symptoms but carries the disease to his relatives at home?
What will happen in schools for special needs or autistic children?
In a report by Berita Harian, Radzi said his ministry had conducted a field trial to ensure social distancing would be practiced.
Would he care to share the trial results with parents and teachers, and reassure them that every precaution to safeguard the health of teachers and pupils has been taken?
What is the response of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP)? Do the unions, which represent the transport sector and ancillary workers such as cleaners and security guards agree with the minister?
If schools remain shut, but many businesses and factories resume operations, working parents will face a dilemma. Their children will be left at home unattended.
How will the government resolve this matter, especially as some employers will be unsympathetic to the needs of parents?
4. The Star TV: MOE will inform parents two weeks before schools reopen
5. Oriental daily: Schools will not reopen on June 10
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)