Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung talking to the children from the MOE Kindergarten at First Toa Payoh Primary School about practising good personal hygiene. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

COVID-19: No plans to close schools yet, says Education Minister Ong Ye Kung; focus is on raising hygiene standards


SINGAPORE: Schools will remain open for now, said Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung on Friday (Feb 14), responding to calls from parents for schools to close in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

"The parents who suggest that, I think, they are just trying to protect their children. And I think we share that; the safety and the well-being of the children is top of our minds,” said Mr Ong, speaking to reporters at First Toa Payoh Primary School (FTPPS).

"But it is also because of that you start to realise, this is a very difficult decision with a lot of pros and cons." 

Mr Ong noted that many parents "feel a sense of safety" by keeping their children at home. 

"But there are significant cons," he added. 

For example, infections can and do happen at home, said Mr Ong. If schools are closed, older students could mingle with each other, and infections could still happen. 

However, in school, students are repeatedly reminded to wash their hands, avoid touching their face and avoid coming to school if they are sick. 

"So, today in school ... it's a much more regimented and cleaner environment. That's why we say we are trying our best to call on all of the 33,000 educators to make schools one of the safest places against this virus," he added. 

Mr Ong also noted that closing schools would be a “big disruption” to many parents and students. 

“At the beginning, we may feel safe, but as schools continue to be closed, after a while, normalcy would be disrupted," he said. 

"Parents will be scrambling, 'how do I look after my child in the day when I’m at work?' And the alternative childcare arrangements may not be safer than schools."

Noting that schools were closed during the SARS period so that precautionary measures could be implemented before students were allowed into the premises, Mr Ong said: "All those systems are today in place. So we don’t have the need to close schools. 

"As of now, I think we should keep schools going, but take extra precautions, as we have already done."

He added: “If there is widespread virus transmission, whether you close (schools), whether you open (schools), I think you’re going to get infections (in schools). And the pros and cons have to be weighed carefully.

“I think what we can make sure we do (is) raise the individual hygiene standards, raise the group hygiene standards of schools, and make sure this is one of the safest places in Singapore for students.”,f_auto/image/12435228/16x9/991/557/9433f1b3d5779ff1c6c4af43d6f99ff3/LQ/minister-ong-ye-kung-toa-payoh-school-2.jpg
Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung learns how to wash hands properly with the children from the MOE Kindergarten at First Toa Payoh Primary School. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)


The Ministry of Education also launched on Friday a new rap for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Calling for students to wash their hands and wipe down their belongings and areas they use, the rap is part of a Total Defence Day campaign.

Along with the rap, the Education Ministry also launched five superhero mascots called the Soaper 5, each with a different message.

Super Soaper Soffy, Hands Down Hana, Mask Up Mei Mei, Virus Screener Varun and Wipe Up Wilson are each tagged to a personal hygiene habit - washing your hands with soap, avoid touching your face, wearing a mask and seeing a doctor if unwell, and wiping down surfaces to make it clean for the next person.

The Total Defence Day lesson package, which has been rolled out across all primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges, will recognise how COVID-19 has impacted the community, teach students how they can play their part by practising good hygiene, and empower them to identify community needs from the COVID-19 situation, said MOE.,f_auto/image/12435298/16x9/991/557/829edbf8f685d44baa6c83299bea696/Nr/minister-ong-ye-kung-toa-payoh-school-8.jpg
Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung praticising good personal hygiene with students First Toa Payoh Primary School. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Shen Yi Ping, a Primary 3 student at FTPPS, said he was “a little bit scared” of the virus, but hoped that there would be a cure soon. 

“I learnt that the virus is not as serious as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), but it spreads faster than SARS. 

“Now it’s very strict. Every time you come to school there will be a health check. They will ask you if you’re feeling well, they will see if you have a cough, runny nose, or if you look like you have a fever,” said Yi Ping, adding that students are sent home even if they are just a bit sick. 

Mr Ong stressed that cleaning common areas like the canteen regularly is now more critical than ever, and with staggered recesses in schools, there is more cleaning to be done. 

“Using Total Defence Day, we are rolling out the next stage, which is very critical, which is our group hygiene, as a community, as a system. And therefore, we are instituting a wipe down routine to clean up after yourself,” said Mr Ong.