Home-based Learning or HBL will no longer be the default if there is a COVID-19 infection. To keep schools safe while ensuring that students can continue learning without disruption, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will adopt a more sustainable, risk-based targeted approach towards school cases, as we learn to live with COVID-19 as an endemic disease, MOE said in a press release.
In a Facebook post, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said that methods for prevention, containment and remediation must evolve as the virus evolves, but goals remain unchanged. The goals are to continue managing the virus in sustainable ways, outlast the virus threat, and emerge stronger.
Full HBL is last resort
Full HBL is not a sustainable option because it has its limitations and is disruptive to students, parents and teachers. It should therefore be used only as a last resort, Mr Chan said. Even when HBL is limited to specific levels, the disruption to student learning and family schedules is still quite significant, he added.
More than 20,000 students placed on HBL; none tested positive
Mr Chan revealed that over the past 3 months, some 100 levels across 50 schools were placed on HBL at different times and for varying time periods. More than 20,000 students were thus affected. None of the students tested COVID-19 while they were placed on HBL. This is because all close contacts had already been swiftly placed on Leave of Absence (LOA) or Quarantined Order (QO).
A more targeted approach
With a clearer understanding of the COVID-19 situation based on empirical evidence and how measures have been effective in managing the COVID-19 situation in schools, MOE will make careful adjustments to ensure our schools continue to be kept safe, and for learning to continue with a broader range of school activities to gradually resume, in tandem with the push towards a COVID-19 resilient nation, MOE said in its press release.
Schools will no longer place entire levels on Home-Based Learning (HBL) as a default when there is a COVID-19 infection case. Instead, they will focus on placing close contacts and students from the same classes or CCA groups under LOA or QO instead. This targeted approach which impacts a more narrowly defined group of students will further minimise disruptions, Mr Chan said.
However, placing more classes or levels on HBL remains an option should there be a risk of transmission beyond close contacts.
Keeping schools safe requires everyone’s cooperation
Mr Chan also revealed that from May to July, 216 students out of a student population of 600,000 got infected. The vast majority were from household transmission.
103 of the 216 were primary school students. More than half of the cases were isolated through LOA or QO even before they tested positive, which meant that no contact tracing was required in schools as these cases did not pose any risk to their schoolmates.
Keeping schools safe will require the cooperation of families, teachers, staff and students, Mr Chan said. Families who have household members experiencing symptoms should keep their students at home – away from schools and tuition centres where other students gather.
Teachers and staff will need to continue to be vigilant due to the infectious nature of the current variant, and to send students who display even mild symptoms home.
“Vaccinate or Regular Test” (VoRT) regime
Under the VoRT regime, all staff and teachers who are not yet fully vaccinated, unvaccinated or medically ineligible for the vaccination will be tested twice a week.
The VoRT regime will also be extended to non-government employees who have regular contact with students aged 12 and below, including in settings that are outside of school such as tuition and enrichment centres and student care centres, as well as school bus drivers and attendants.
Fast and Easy Testing (FET) regime
A smaller group of staff will also have to be regularly tested, even if they are vaccinated, due to their involvement in higher-risk activities. This will include contract cleaners and school canteen operators, as well as PE teachers who conduct mask-off activities as part of PE lessons in our schools.
The fight against COVID-19 is a contest of evolution and adaptation. It is also a test of our resilience, vigilance and cohesion. Most significantly, it is an opportunity for us to work together to exemplify for our children the values we believe in. May we emerge stronger as a nation.
– Education Minister Chan Chun Sing