The Jakarta Post
Children are the most vulnerable in the midst of Indonesia's ongoing haze crisis, which has severely disrupted their education and threatened their health.
In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, the local administration's decision to close down schools for almost five weeks over the past two months has received a mixed reaction from teachers and parents.
Susiati, who teaches first grade students at SDN 6 Pahandut state elementary school, said she had received complaints from several parents who considered the policy, aimed at minimizing negative health impacts from the thickening haze in the city, ineffective and detrimental to their children's development.
'The parents told me that their children had already forgotten what they learned at school, particularly in reading and writing. If the school closures last too long, we won't have any other option except to start all the lessons again,' Susiati said on Monday.
Over the past few months, Indonesia has struggled to minimize the impact of air pollution originating from fires on plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The ongoing haze crisis has also been exacerbated by this year's prolonged dry season, triggered in turn by the El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon.
Among the country's affected regions, Palangkaraya has so far been the worst hit, with an average daily concentration of particulate matter ( PM10 ) in the city standing at above 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter (Âµg/m3) over the past couple of weeks.
On Monday morning, PM10 concentration in the city stood at 1,357.16 Âµg/m3.
Authorities consider air quality 'good' if its PM10 concentration stands below 50 Âµg/m3 and 'hazardous' when it surpasses 350 Âµg/m3.
At least 10 people in Sumatra and Kalimantan have died, and thousands, mostly children, have been hospitalized because of severe respiratory illnesses caused by the haze.
Fourteen-year-old Khairil Anwar, a ninth grader at Muhammadiyah Junior High School, said the repeated closures had made him pessimistic about graduating from the school next year with decent grades.
'Our math teacher, for instance, could only cover the first two chapters of our math textbook due to the haze,' he said, adding that his school had only several weeks remaining before the end of the academic semester.
According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the ongoing haze crisis had caused more than 500,000 people in six provinces ' Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan ' to suffer from acute respiratory infections (ISPA).
In Pekanbaru, Riau, at least two children and one adult recently died because of respiratory failure allegedly triggered by the haze that has blanketed the province for the past couple of months.
Following at his administration's unsuccessful attempts to put out forest and peatland fires, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo has instructed his ministers to prepare for the evacuation of haze victims, particularly infants and children, from the worst affected regions.
In a visit to Central Kalimantan on Saturday, Culture and Education Minister Anies Baswedan said that the haze had affected the operation of around 25,000 schools across the archipelago.
Anies said the government would rearrange the schedule for national exams in the affected schools next year in order to give their final year students more time to prepare.
'[The results of] national exams do not determine [a student's] graduation. The exams won't ask students things that they did not learn [at school],' he said.
Meanwhile in West Sumatra, several regional administrations decided on Monday to give local students another day off because of thickening haze in their respective areas.
The Padang municipal administration, however, decided to open local schools again after closing them on Friday and Saturday for health concerns.
'Despite the haze, I decided to take my son to school, otherwise he would miss the lessons,' said Dewi Fajriani, a local resident and mother of a fourth grader.
In North Sumatra, a number of local administrations, including in provincial capital of Medan and Simalungun and Deli Serdang regencies, extended school closures until Tuesday despite a declining intensity of haze in the regions.
'We will start school activities again on Wednesday,' said Deli Serdang Education, Youth and Sport Agency secretary Misran Sihaloho.
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