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HCMC working parents fret over delayed reopening of schools

By Manh Tung   October 10, 2021 | 05:23 am PT
Ngoc Quynh is at a loss. She and her husband have to go to work. What about her fourth-grader son whose school will only reopen in January?

"Studying online all the time, my son will get addicted to the computer, and his eyes will get damaged," she lamented.

Early next month, the couple will have to return to their workplaces, and are not sure what to do if their son is still at home and not at school.

Natives of the central region, Quynh and her husband, residents of Thu Duc City, have been living in HCMC for more than 10 years.

After a month of sticking to the computer to study online, her son is bored and frustrated. Every time his mother tells him to study online, he gets upset, complains that he is tired and insists on going to school to see his friends.

Even as the son’s online learning becomes more difficult, the parents’ companies are about to reopen. As an employee of an administrative department, Quynh must be at the office, while her husband frequently leaves town on business trips. Without grandparents and relatives around, she and her husband were hoping that schools would reopen as soon as possible.

A student of Luong The Vinh Primary School in HCMCs District 7 has his online lesson. Photo courtesy of parents

A student of Luong The Vinh Primary School in HCMC's District 7 has his online lesson. Photo courtesy of parents

In this situation, the plan of the municipal education department to have students stay at home and persist with online learning for more than 2.5 months has distressed Quynh and other parents in similar situations.

Quynh said it would be okay to reopen schools early because the pandemic is basically under control, and it is impossible to ask for absolute safety at this time.

Instead of worrying, educators should resume in-person lessons and tighten safety measures, she said.

"Of course, there will be parents who don't want to send their children to school because they can take care of their children or feel insecure. In order to reconcile different opinions, schools can gradually reopen their doors to parents in need, combining this with online teaching for those staying at home," Quynh said.

But, she acknowledged, the education sector will not be able to implement in-person classes this month. And even if schools were reopened ahead of schedule, grades 1 and 2, or the seniors in secondary and high schools are likely to be prioritized. Therefore, she and her husband have considered hiring a tutor to look after and teach their son while they are at work.

Phan Huu Dong, another Thu Duc City resident, has two children in grade 1 and grade 8, respectively. Dong has also been looking forward to schools reopening. When the new school year started, he and his wife thought of many likely scenarios and decided that in the worst case, the kids will stay at home until the end of the school year.

So far, Dong said, the pandemic situation is coincident with the second scenario that the education sector predicted when the new school year kicked off. This means that the pandemic is under control and schools, many of which had been used as quarantine or vaccination facilities in the last few months, will be handed over to their administrators.

"If they have to study online until the end of the first semester, it (the closure) will last through the middle of Jan. 2022. This time will be close to the Tet holiday, so children will return to schools in early February. From now until then, it is too long and too much to bear for students."

Dong said schools can reopen and arrange in-person classes in the morning or afternoon, and keep the rest of the day for online lessons.

"This will give children some relief and create interest in learning. Parents will also have time to work when the economy reopens," he said.

The parents of many 12 graders are even more impatient because prolonged online learning will affect preparations for the National High School Exam.

As of now, students born in 2004 have spent three consecutive years of high school affected by Covid-19, and the hardest part of that will be this year.

"In my opinion, school doors should be opened early for the 12th graders first. They are eligible to get vaccinated and old enough to know how to protect themselves," said a parent in Binh Thanh District.

Other parents have agreed with the proposal of the education department to reopen school next January, but remain worried about the safety of their children.

They are concerned that students have not been vaccinated, schools used as quarantine facilities have not been handed over, and in-person learning not synchronized.

A student at Le Duc Tho Primary School, Go Vap District. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

A student at Le Duc Tho Primary School, Go Vap District. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

'Safety comes first'

Ngo Duc Thinh, resident of Tan Phu District, said going back to school is feasible if two factors are ensured: high enough vaccination rate in the community; and thorough control over the disease.

The official number of infections and deaths has decreased in recent days, but the reality could be different, Thinh said.

The new set safety criteria for school reopening is just a draft, as half the facilities and schools in town have been used as quarantine facilities.

"Things are so messy, it's impossible to study in person now. It's better to let our children return to schools late, health and safety comes first," he maintained.

Immunization for young children is a main concern among parents, schools, and educators, since vaccination is expected to be a mandatory criterion for children to go back to school.

At an online meeting Saturday with a delegation of parliamentarians representing HCMC, leaders of Children's Hospital 1 and Hung Vuong Hospital proposed that children are vaccinated early in the context of HCMC schools planning to reopen early 2022.

The Ministry of Health had previously said that children could not be vaccinated due to a lack of vaccine supply and priority had to be given to vulnerable groups.

With more than 20 years of experience in education management, Nguyen Van Ngai, former deputy director of the HCMC Department of Education and Training, said that online learning, especially in small classes, has many shortcomings and burdens, but this is the best solution at the moment.

The pandemic situation in HCMC is still complicated and unpredictable, and schools cannot reopen now, he insisted.

"Living with the pandemic does not mean taking risks. Education should go (reopen) at a slower rate than other fields because students have not been vaccinated, schools are places with many people and many risks," Ngai said.

He said vaccination can be prioritized for senior students in high schools, so they can go to school first. This would help them prepare better for the national exam and create momentum for other grades.

A survey of 1,585 people by VnExpress revealed only 14 percent of parents want their children to return to schools now with safety conditions ensured. More than 52 percent (800 people) said they would only allow their children to return to school when they are fully vaccinated, and more than 30 percent expected schools to reopen after the first semester, or when the pandemic is totally under control.

More than 50 percent of 2,400 HCMC schools are being used for Covid-19 prevention purposes. They will be handed over to the education sector by mid-November, so that local authorities and school administrators can start preparing for the reopening, officials have said.

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