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Jakarta Post

Teachers, parents fret over health risks as schools prepare to reopen

  • Made Anthony Iswara and Dyaning Pangestika

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, June 18, 2020   /   08:06 am
Teachers, parents fret over health risks as schools prepare to reopen Kindly gesture: Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim puts his hands together to gesture after the announcement of the Indonesia Onward Cabinet on Oct. 23, 2019. Nadiem announced Tuesday that schools will reopen in phases. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Tody Yusuf, 35, said he became worried upon hearing that his child’s kindergarten in East Lampung may soon reopen.

The regency is among the few regions that was labeled a “green zone” by the national COVID-19 task force as of June 7, meaning that it has the lowest risk of infection.

Tody, who works as an official at the East Lampung Planning Agency, had yet to hear about any updates from the school as of Wednesday, but he said he would check the premises himself during the planned reopening to gauge whether or not to allow his children to go back to school.

“Indeed, East Lampung is in the green zone, but we don’t know what will happen in the future,” Tody said.

His worries echo the concerns of many other parents in Indonesia following the Education and Culture Ministry’s decision to allow a gradual reopening of schools located in COVID-19 low-risk areas beginning in July.

According to the ministry’s updated official academic calendar, the 2020-2021 school year will start on July 13.

Read also: Indonesia to allow phased reopening of schools in COVID-19 ‘green zones’: Minister

Around 90 cities and regencies across the nation are considered green zones, Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim said during an online press conference on Tuesday.

The number of students in those areas is roughly equivalent to 6 percent of all students in the country, while the remaining 94 percent must continue their education through online learning modules.

The minister said schools could be closed again if there was any COVID-19 transmission in the areas, or if the risk status of the area had changed to yellow, orange or red.

Nadiem said he would hand over the final say to reopen schools in green zone areas to their respective regional administrations, but added that schools must still fulfill strict requirements and health protocols before they can reopen. All students are also still required to wear masks and practice physical distancing.

Read also: School reopening raises concerns as health risks loom

Despite the gradual easing of restrictions, people who live outside the designated green zones are worried that the government might be making a big mistake.

Adithya Eka Putra, 38, a private sector employee from South Tangerang, said that the reopening plan did not convince him to allow his 5-year-old child to go back to kindergarten, even if officials decided to resume activities.

The reason, he said, was that the number of COVID-19 infections was still high in his area. South Tangerang recorded 355 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, the second-highest in Banten province, according to infocorona.bantenprov.go.id.

“I would rather have at-home learning until the government can absolutely ensure that the situation is conducive [to going back to school], even though we don’t know when that will happen,” he said.

Teachers have also raised concerns.

More than half of all school administrators across the country said they were not ready to resume face-to-face learning or usher in the so-called “new normal” period, mostly due to a lack of infrastructure and funding, a recent survey by the Federation of Indonesian Teachers Associations (FSGI) revealed.

Read also: Indonesian schools not ready for ‘new normal’: Survey

In South Tangerang, kindergarten and playgroup teacher Ellisa Tisbiawati, 37, said that building awareness among her students to follow and maintain health and safety measures would be a major hurdle – the younger the student, the more challenging it would be.

“That task is hard because many of us parents may get carried away by our busy schedules, while [us teachers] are either overwhelmed or not ready to respond positively or wisely to this situation,” she said.

Health experts have also weighed in on the situation, concerned that the government’s decisions may have wider implications than can be predicted.

Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist from Griffith University in Australia, urged the government to delay learning activities at school until the end of 2020.

He advised both the central and regional governments to consult the relevant experts should they insist on reopening schools, even for areas that are in green zones.

The current zoning system and the data provided were “relatively unreliable”, he said, owing mostly to limited testing capacity preventing any real-time observation.

“The fact remains that our situation in the pandemic has yet to reach its peak, and that [effective] control has yet to be optimized,” Dicky said.

Instead, schools and the government should still keep the option to learn from home on the table to cater to parents who won’t allow their children to go back to school.

Online and long-distance learning or door-to-door teaching in small groups may have their own merits given the circumstances, he said.

[RA::Teachers go extra mile to teach students as schools remain closed:https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/06/08/teachers-go-extra-mile-to-teach-students-as-schools-remain-closed.html]

Andreas Tambah, an education expert from the National Commission on Education (Komnas Pendidikan), supported delaying the reopening of schools, given the probability that COVID-19 will continue to spread and that some segments of the general population still lack the discipline to follow health protocols.

He urged schools to clearly communicate what health procedures would be enforced to appease parents and calm fears over the heightened risk of transmission.

“Reopening schools is very risky,” he said. “Family backgrounds vary – some will obey [protocol] while others won’t, but the students will [intermingle all the same].”

Forty-five-year-old Eko Purwanto, a civil servant from East Lampung, said he was happy to hear that his children could go back to school, as long as health protocol was observed.

“We feel sorry for our children; they say they are already tired of [learning from home], and they always ask me when they can go to school again,” he said.