Of Vaccine, Children and Basic Education
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. Most if not all governments around the world have opted to temporarily close educational institutions. In a flash, all levels and types of education were transformed from a face-to-face instruction to a remote, virtual one.
As of late April 2020, schools have closed in 180 countries, and 85% of students worldwide are out of school. UNESCO reported that nearly 90% of the world’s student population — over 1.5 billion learners in 165 countries — have had their learning experiences disrupted.
The World Bank Group added that the pandemic threatens education progress worldwide through two major shocks. First, the near-universal closing of schools at all levels. Second, the economic recession sparked by pandemic-control measures.
As you may already know, the clinical effects of COVID-19 on young children are uncertain. Most children are asymptomatic or exhibit only mild symptoms. However, there is emerging evidence of increasing rates of child hyperinflammatory shock.
Keep in mind that Pfizer’s vaccine has only been authorised for individuals aged 16 and above while Moderna, 18 and above.
Both companies have begun clinical trials for younger kids and with any luck, a full paediatric vaccine will be available by late 2021.
Huge Digital Leap in the Education of Our Children
2020 forced us to take a huge digital leap in the education of our children. Teaching went online and children were made to receive instructions from behind a computer screen.
Online classes provided immense value to children, where now they can continue learning and developing even from home. The challenge, understandably, came from the need for both parent and child to adapt, together with the lack of ready online learning equipment (laptop, tablet) some families may lack.
A petition was soon made in change.org. Julie Lee, a concerned Malaysian netizen, set up a petition to urge the education and health ministries to draw up guidelines, allowing preschool to resume operation.
Writing on behalf of private preschools in Malaysia, Julie Lee put forward four key reasons why it’s crucial for preschools nationwide to resume operation:
- Children, aged 4 until 6 are in the critical age of development and preschool education plays a very important role for cognitive, social and emotional growth. Keeping them at home affects the precious window of development they need.
- Kindergartens (Tadika) are very important for working parents to sustain their career while taking care of their children.
- Small and operator-run kindergartens across Malaysia can communicate directly with parents, allowing room for collaboration between parents and the kindergarten to arrive at the best decisions during disruptive times.
- Tadika, on the other hand, are privately owned and will be badly impacted if they remain closed for a long time.
In November 2020, Malaysian National Security Council finally green-lighted the reopening of private kindergartens and tadika alike with a list of Standard Operations Procedures (SOP).
Post-Lockdown Safety Guidance: Is it Really Safe for Kids to go Back to School?
Some preschools have reopened, while others are still using a combination of physical classes and virtual classes. Some parents are allowed to work from home but others are not as fortunate.
This caused many families to be left wondering and uncertain if it’s safe to send their kids back to school.
Parents ourselves, we don’t want our kids to be left behind academically. And, at the same time, we don’t want them to get sick. But what is the right thing to do? Especially now. Is it safe to send our kids back to school?
In April 2020, National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) issued post-lockdown COVID-19 safety guidance for early childhood centres that covers in depth the following areas:
- Safety COVID-19 Training for the Whole School Community: Early intervention centres, childcare centres and kindergartens are required to provide safety COVID-19 training to ALL staff, parents and students.
- Universal (Basic) Prevention Measures – Do at all Times: Universal prevention measures include good personal hygiene, clean environment and social distance.
- Health Checks and Screening: Perform health checks, temperature screening, and hand sanitisation at the school entrance for ALL staff, students, and visitors.
- Put Up Signs: Preschool centres are required to put up posters and visuals to remind staff, visitors and children to practise new preventive measures.
- Specific Prevention Measures: This section describes preventive measures that should be taken by all staff and parents at different times and settings throughout the school routine.
- Staff Meetings and Training: Centres are required to reduce face-to-face meetings and staff training, especially non-essential ones. They are to conduct meetings over emails or teleconferencing instead.
At Q-dees, we understand your concern over your child’s safety and wellbeing.
As such, we’ve also taken extra steps in making sure all our centres are abiding by the guidelines set by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Education (MOE).
Before we opened our doors to welcome our bright children, we ensure that our centres go through thorough sanitisation and disinfection.
Representatives from the education ministry have visited our centres to ensure that SOPs are respected and followed.
What Can Parents Do?
With safety measures now in place, learning is not going to be the same in 2021.
This starts with teachers, who will be constantly reminding their students to follow the new normal practices, on top of taking extra precaution for their movement around the classroom.
Children will be spaced apart and made to que up more frequently. They would be advised to not share food, utensils and stationery. And on top of that, wearing face masks would be compulsory during preschool.
While these new practices may be challenging for children, we can help encourage them.
Here are some ideas:
1 – Have an Age-Appropriate Open Communication:
Children may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school. Pick a time and talk to them about what’s worrying them.
Ask open-ended short questions such as, “Do you have questions about going back to school?” “Are you thinking about anything?” “Do you feel excited?”
Bring your child into this conversation and let them know that it’s okay to feel anxious.
2 – Let Them Know What to Expect
Until there is an effective vaccine or treatment, it’s safe to consider that the safety practices implemented at preschool will be here for some time.
Be upfront with children and help them understand what to expect in the coming weeks. Why aren’t they allowed to play with the other children? And how long will they have to wait?
Children usually need simple and honest answers. Avoid lecturing them on why they should or shouldn’t do something. Rather, let them lead the discussion and answer questions they ask.
Additionally, help them feel secure by reminding them that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes.
3 – Reassure Them
Safety measures such as wearing masks and having to keep a distance from their friends may make children feel more nervous.
The good thing is we can motivate children to do what’s right and have them be proud of their actions.
Encourage them to follow the SOPs by reminding them that they are making a difference in the fight against COVID-19. While the SOP may seem troublesome, reassure them that doing so keeps him and people around himself safe.
Early learning education is fundamental to children’s development and well-being. It is critical to reflect on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures have had on their development academically,emotionally and socially.
If you’ve decided to send your child back to school, remember, it’s critical to remind him (and yourself) that you know he’s feeling anxious about this new normal.
Reassure him time and again that it’s okay to talk about their worries and emotions. Last but not least, get in touch frequently with your child’s school and make sure to follow your school’s decisions and be ready to make adjustments.
Sign the Petition: Please allow Private Kindergartens to Reopen under KKM (Kesihatan) & MOE guidelines. (2020). Change.Org. https://www.change.org/p/prime-minster-please-allow-private-kindergartens-to-reopen-under-kkm-kesihatan-moe-guidelines
Yoshikawa, H., Wuermli, A. J., Britto, P. R., Dreyer, B., Leckman, J. F., Lye, S. J., … & Stein, A. (2020). Effects of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic on Early Childhood Development: Short-and Long-Term Risks and Mitigating Program and Policy Actions. The Journal of Pediatrics.
Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Early Childhood Care and Education. (2020a). Early Childhood Education Journal, 48(5), 533–536. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-020-01082-0
Rogers, F. H., & Sabarwal, S. (2020). The COVID-19 Pandemic: Shocks to Education and Policy Responses (No. 148198, pp. 1-56). The World Bank.
National Early Childhood Intervention Council. 2020. SOP: Post-Lockdown COVID-19 Safety Guidance for Early Childhood Centres. Malaysia. Version 1, 10th April 2020. Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 4.0.
Communities, Schools, Workplaces, & Event. (2020, April 30). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-childcare.html