Help needed for schools to aid bid to block virus

By Wen Shun-te 溫順德  / 

Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 8

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, the start of the new semester for schools up to senior high has been delayed, but some parents have accused the authorities of a ham-fisted response.

While a disease outbreak leaves the government with no option but to extend the winter vacation, the lack of comprehensive complementary measures leaves room for improvement.

The government announced this delay so that schools could take thorough precautions against the disease, and to set parents’ minds at rest, but there are still four things that it must do as soon as possible.

First, it must provide sufficient disease-prevention supplies. Although clinical treatment in Taiwan is on a par with other advanced countries, it has beem slow to supply disease-prevention materials. There is currently a shortage of masks, especially for children, as well as alcohol and forehead thermometers.

The government is good at gentle persuasion, but not so good at effective measures. How can schools effectively prevent diseases without adequate supplies? The central authorities should quickly provide these materials to local governments to pass them on to schools before they reopen.

Second, everything possible must be done to block disease-prevention loopholes. With the start of classes delayed, parents who are worried that their children’s studies would be interrupted might send them to cram schools, whose closed spaces are hotbeds for the virus to spread.

Similarly, private kindergartens are exempt from the delayed start. All private kindergarten classes should be suspended, while local governments should regulate cram schools and after-school classes. Local authorities should convene meetings with private-school operators and inspect their facilities to make sure they implement disease-prevention measures.

Third, the authorities should formulate complementary measures. Delaying the start of classes disrupts schools’ entire operations. Their calendars need to be adjusted and activities rescheduled. While the semester has been delayed for two weeks, the timetable for matriculation exams remains unchanged.

Word has it that the scope of exam questions would be reduced, but no clear announcement has yet been made. This means that teachers would have to rush through their courses, while students would have less time to prepare. The central authorities must speed up their efforts to address this issue and announce a plan as early as possible to facilitate schools’ arrangements and allow students time to study with peace of mind.

Fourth, the government must build digital e-learning systems. Epidemiologists think that the COVID-19 outbreak is still on the rise. If the epidemic does not slow down by the scheduled start of the new semester, the suspension of classes is likely to be extended.

That would have a negative impact on teaching, so the government must prepare beforehand.

A number of small organizations have already established e-learning platforms, both synchronous and asynchronous, that can overcome spatial limitations to deliver real instruction. Central authorities should collaborate with these platforms. They could also encourage schools to team up to promote remote live colearning, thus preparing them if and when the need arises.

Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) posted a message on Facebook calling on the public to join hands to fight the epidemic and safeguard children’s health.

The government must act firmly and promptly to extend and perfect a range of measures before classes start, and the public must work in unison to block the spread of this virus and safeguard the nation’s future.

Wen Shun-te is a senior-high school principal.

Translated by Julian Clegg