KUALA LUMPUR: The Education Ministry has given its schools the green light to run classes or close as they see fit, as the haze persists with no sign of abating, forcing the government to close schools for the fourth consecutive day.
Its director-general, Datuk Seri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof, said even if the ministry issued a blanket order for schools to close when the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings hit unhealthy levels, they could exercise their discretion to open, but must take all measures to protect students from being exposed to the hazard.
“The autonomy of schools now comes into play, more so when we are uncertain when the haze problem is going to end and if it prolongs until the end of the year or even after the start of next year’s term.
“It will be manageable if schools take necessary precautions to protect students from the haze, including by making protective masks compulsory so classes can continue. The safety of the school community must be paramount,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.
The ministry had, since Oct 4, issued eight directives for schools to close.
This is the standard operating procedure when API readings hits 150.
Khair addressed the question on the minds of many parents whose children are sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) that starts in the first week of November.
The exam involving more than 500,000 candidates will go on as scheduled.
“SPM and other examinations will continue and schools must make sure they are held in a safe environment, free from the haze,” said Khair.
Earlier, at the National Pembestarian Sekolah awards ceremony here, he said to minimise lost learning hours, schools must adopt innovative measures to facilitate the teaching and learning process.
He said the ministry encouraged schools and teachers to adopt other teaching and learning methods and that this could be done with ease, especially with the easy access to information and communications technology (ICT).
“They can use the ‘blended learning’ programme where students learn, at least in part, through the delivery of content and instruction via online platforms.
“This is one way to minimise lost hours when the conventional method of teaching is not an option.
“I hope this innovative way of instruction is made practice and that its use is not only limited to times like this,” he said, adding that the use of ICT in the school system was part of the Malaysian Education Blueprint (2013-2025).
Khair told the NST that the ministry was aware that some teachers had taken the initiative to engage students in unconventional teaching methods and that it hoped more teachers would follow suit.
“Many schools are also giving out homework to students, even through their parents, so that students could cope.
“We are, however, still hoping that the haze situation will improve and all schools will operate as normal,” he said.
Khair said the ministry had made the 1Bestari net readily available to schools in rural areas to give them a chance at the virtual learning environment as it provided Internet connectivity to rural areas.
“This way of using technology is not only relevant in teaching and learning, but can also lead to more productivity in management and information dissemination,” he said.
Meanwhile, National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Loke Yim Pheng said, as schools provided the best learning environment, the ministry could operate shorter hours, on alternate days, when unhealthy API readings persisted.
“Instead of the usual six-hour learning process, it can be cut by half. Students can go to school for lessons only and return home immediately with homework to be done for the next day,” she said, adding that parents must play a critical role in helping their children cope with lessons as they were left with fewer learning hours.