AFTER three long months, teachers are delighted to be seeing their charges again in less than two weeks but many are anxious about juggling their duties as educator, counsellor and implementor of the Education Ministry’s school reopening management guidelines in the new normal.
With the return of 500,440 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), Sijil Vokasional Malaysia (SVM), and Sijil Tinggi Agama (STAM) students from nearly 3,000 schools across the nation on June 24, teachers play a key role in preventing a second Covid-19 outbreak.
Not knowing what to expect when schools reopen, English language teacher S. Sri Murugan said teachers have no choice but to carry out the guidelines’ standard operating procedures (SOPs) dutifully, while worrying about a multitude of other things including teaching students in other forms.
There are still many issues that have yet to be addressed by the ministry, he said.
These include the lack of computer and Internet facilities for teachers who have to teach Form Five while juggling online lessons for those in other forms.
“Teachers are concerned. Even though it has been announced when schools are reopening, there are still many issues that need to be addressed.
“The majority of schools have ill-equipped computer laboratories and limited Internet access.
“This means that teachers who will be going to school for the Forms Five and Six students may not be able to give enough attention to the others who have not been allowed to return yet.”
He said getting used to wearing a mask the whole day and making sure social distancing is observed, will take some time to adjust to.
As a father-of-two, he himself is apprehensive about allowing his daughters to return when school is fully reopened for everyone.
“Are parents willing to send their children to school? I for one am not keen to let my children go back when face-to-face classes resume.”
While the added tasks for teachers may be stressful, Sri Murugan said the burden of implementing the SOPs can be shared between teachers through proper delegation of work. The work, he said, has to be equally distributed.
Just looking at the guidelines is already overwhelming for Kolej Tingkatan Enam Sri Istana teacher Chandrika Menon. The increased workload, she said, will add to her stress of having to prepare daily lesson plans and conduct online classes.
“We don’t have a choice but to do whatever is necessary to flatten the curve and break the chain of infection. By taking on this challenge (added duties), we are helping the government and community to get back some sense of normality.
“So I’m looking at this positively and have prepared myself mentally to take on the added responsibilities of making sure that the SOPs are followed.”
She, however, said cleanliness of the school’s premises is a concern.
It will be an uphill task to ensure every area of the school is well sanitised because there is a lack of cleaners, she added.
Describing herself as an extrovert, Chandrika is looking forward to being back in class.
It was difficult being confined at home, she admits. She misses not being able to interact with students.
The movement control order (MCO), she said, has affected the quality of teaching although it
enabled her to balance work and family time more efficiently and catch up with cooking and community service.
“Most of the time, you don’t get full attendance during online sessions. And unlike face-to-face lessons, I don’t feel the satisfaction of knowing that the students understood what was taught.
“Also, many teachers are not very technologically savvy so there is still a lot of learning to do on our part to prepare for our online lessons.
“I had to learn many things in a very short time.”
Eager to return to school despite the uncertainties that await, a Science and Mathematics teacher who wants to be identified as Lim, is prepared to go the extra mile for students.
But she is worried about who will take over her classes which will now be split to allow proper social distancing. Dreading the time when all students resume face-to-face classes, she said more teachers will be needed in schools when students of all levels are allowed back.
Another teacher who only gave his name as Koo, said he felt stressed going through the ministry’s guidelines.
“Teachers are already taking care of so many things.
“The SOPs add to our overflowing plate of responsibilities and work.
“But as teachers, we take this in stride. It is our responsibility to guide and help our students. We are ready for this.”
Although they are ready to wade into unchartered waters by doing their best to ensure full compliance with the SOPs, Sri Murugan, Chandrika, Lim and Koo remain fearful that the reopening of schools could lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases.
They, however, believe that if everyone – including parents – cooperate, a second wave can be avoided.
“Risks can be minimised if everyone in school, including the staff, teachers, canteen operators, students, security personnel and cleaning crew, follow the ministry’s SOPs, ” said Koo who believes that e-learning is not as effective as face-to-face sessions.
Urging all schools to follow the SOPs strictly, Sarawak Teachers’ Union (STU) president Macky Joseph said teachers are ever ready to resume classes in accordance with lesson plans while maintaining social distancing in the classroom.
This, he said, is now a compulsory practice.
“Except for those in Forms 5 and 6, schools nationwide remain closed indefinitely. Although schools will be reopened in stages, teachers will still have to continue with virtual teaching.
“So parents and guardians are advised to motivate their children to keep up with e-learning.
“While waiting for the reopening of schools for other students, everyone must play their part to ensure education continues, ” he said, adding that obedience, discipline and awareness are key to combating the pandemic.
“Everyone must obey the given guidelines, routinely follow the new norms, keep updated with the latest information and precautionary measures, and be vigilant of crowded areas.”
The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), meanwhile, proposed having four subjects a day for four-hour school sessions to keep students safe from the coronavirus when schools reopen.
Its secretary-general Harry Tan said only core subjects should be taught face-to-face. Electives should be taught online in a dynamic schooling system that will see students in school three times a week and learning online twice a week.
And, students should fill out an online health screening questionnaire and have their temperatures checked before heading to school.
They must be made to wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before entering their transport to school and sanitising their hand upon entering the vehicle.
Wearing a mask is also compulsory throughout the ride to school and the entire schooling session.
These were among the suggestions put up on the union’s Facebook page on June 3 after it conducted a month-long study on schooling post-movement control order.
“Parents and guardians should not be allowed into the school ground.
“In fact, they are advised to stay in the vehicle and not congregate at the school entrance or bus stop, ” Tan said, adding that other measures that can be implemented include having small groups of students arrive 5-10 minutes apart so that they can have their temperature checked at the school gate by security guards, teachers or school staff.
These small groups of between 10 to 15 students, need to line up 1m apart to maintain social distancing.
“It will be straight to the classroom after that with no form of gatherings allowed.
“A second round of temperature checks will be done before entering the classroom.”
Tan said schools must provide soap and hand sanitiser at the entrance, bathrooms and strategic locations. Classrooms, he added, must be well-lit and ventilated with no air conditioning used.
Tables and chairs should be arranged 1m apart with the tables covered in plastic for easy cleaning.
“All surfaces should be wiped with disinfectant at least three times a day and all items must be sanitised after each use. Students will have fixed seating and there should be no group work or sharing of items.
“There should be no activities with physical contact or group work that involve sharing items.”