Schools not taking haze for granted

SINGAPORE - The haze situation might be improving but schools are not letting their guard down, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Sim Ann yesterday, on the first day of school after the June holidays.

"We're not taking (the haze) for granted. Schools are well prepared with various contingency measures. They know what to do in case there're any changes in the air quality," said Ms Sim on a visit to Hougang Primary School.

"We put the health and safety of our students and our staff first, and we will be tracking (the haze situation) very closely."

She added that schools are keeping track of students who may have existing medical conditions, such as heart or respiratory conditions. Teachers will pay special attention to these students, said Ms Sim.

She added that "if anyone develops any discomfort or feels unwell, every school has prepared a holding room with an air purifier". Those rooms will be used as a temporary resting area for school children or staff who find themselves in need of medical attention.

The Ministry of Education's (MOE's) guidelines for students will follow the health advisory issued by the Government every day, said Ms Sim.

Should the haze situation worsen, schools are prepared to move classes into indoor air-conditioned areas like sports halls.

In the event of school closures, the Kellock branch of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ), for instance, has prepared e-learning lesson materials for students to access from their homes.

For many schools, including CHIJ Kellock and Hougang Primary, e-mail messages and SMSes are being used to disseminate information to parents.

Ms Caral Goh, whose Primary 5 son attends Hougang Primary, was grateful for the school's communication system. She received an SMS last Friday informing her that school would be in session yesterday.

"The school has kept parents informed, so we were not panicky," said the 40-year-old owner of a tuition centre, noting that awareness of the situation "helps to alleviate panic and fear".

Attendance at Hougang Primary was 98 per cent yesterday, said Ms Sim - "slightly better than usual".

Some parents, however, feel that more measures could be firmed up, should the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels hit hazardous levels again, as they did on June 21.

MOE said last Friday that it will consider closing all primary and secondary schools when the daily health advisory for the following day indicates that the air quality will hit the hazardous level.

Ms Kathy Lee, 48, whose daughter is in Primary 6 at CHIJ Kellock, said she felt that should that occur, planned closures should be in place.

MOE should not be "considering" the move for closures at that stage, she said.

MOE has yet to disclose what factors it would consider, with regard to the closing of schools.

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