Hanoi delays resuming in-person classes for 1-6 graders after controversy
In-person schooling is still much more beneficial both in terms of knowledge and health as well as the physical and mental development of children, say experts.
The Hanoi authorities on February 18 afternoon delayed the plan to let first to sixth graders across 12 metropolitan districts come back to school from next Monday [February 21], because of much controversy among local parents in the past few days.
The move was taken after a proposal made yesterday by the municipal Department of Education and Training sent to Hanoi’s government, giving compelling reasons.
The first reason is that the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened in the capital city with a high number of new cases in the community every day. Hanoi has recorded nearly 4,000 new daily Covid-19 cases, on average, in the past days, and consistently topped the country.
Besides coronavirus concerns, the capital city is forecast to experience a deep drop in temperatures and the weather will be bone-chilling cold during the coming week.
Moreover, a high rate of parents did not agree to let their children return to school in the present situation. Numerous parents have voiced opposition, saying it is still dangerous for their children to join face-to-face classes.
In a survey, which was released on February 18 by the Nam Tu Liem District Division of Education and Training with 20 primary classes, over 90% of parents disagree with the policy of letting children return to school, with the disagreement mostly coming over Covid-19 concerns.
Cao Thi Ngoc Hoai, a parent of a first-grader in Nam Tu Liem District told The Hanoi Times that she and her first-grader are perplexed and nervous about getting back to school after spending over nine months studying online.
“My daughter often soon gets sick when it turns chilly cold, especially the coronavirus infection is more and more complicated these days,” Hoai said, citing the fact that since students from grades 1 to 6 in 18 suburban districts began face-to-face schooling from February 10, numerous Covid-19 patients are detected in almost all of the schools.
Echoing Hoai, Nguyen Ngoc Son, a father of a sixth-grader in Cau Giay District, said: “I know that sending children to school is for them to meet friends and develop skills. But, amid the pandemic when they have to wear face masks all day, sit still, and be told by parents not to talk to friends, I think it’s better for them to stay at home and attend distance learning.”
"Moreover, all children aged 5-11 have not been given any Covid-19 vaccine shot, thus, I am so worried that they are at a higher risk of coronavirus infection when joining in-person classes," Son added.
Listening to parents' ideas, Director of the Hanoi's Department of Education and Training Tran The Cuong sent a mentioned-above deferring proposal to the municipal People's Committee.
“However, parents should be fully aware that face-to-face learning is more effective than online learning,” Cuong said.
Quoc Oai Primary School in Hanoi's outskirt district of Quoc Oai welcomes back first graders on February 10. Photo: Cong Khoa
He added that for students attending in-person classes, schools must meet safety standards approved by the education and health sectors to welcome back students. Only teachers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can lead in-person classes.
“We also require schools not to conduct day-boarding services or open canteens and only teach one session (morning or afternoon) per day. Across the capital city, over 455,000 primary school students and 74,600 sixth graders in 18 outskirt districts returned to school after spending over nine months of studying online,” Cuong told The Hanoi Times.
Nguyen Quang Tung, the principal of the Hanoi-based Lomonosov Education System, stressed that his education system has also been well prepared to receive the students though the plan of reopening schools is postponed.
“The preparation to receive the students has been underway since early February. Teachers and staff have been carefully trained to ensure safety for students. The classes' medical equipment is guaranteed to comply with regulations. Going to school is a child's right and we must do everything we can to keep children in school so that their right is not compromised. Children should be in school for their best interests,” Tung told The Hanoi Times.
Deputy Director of the Hanoi Department of Education and Training Pham Xuan Tien inspects teaching work at some schools in Quoc Oai District on February 10. Photo: Nam Du
According to Associate Prof. Nguyen Huy Nga, former head of the General Department for Preventive Medicine under the Ministry of Health, it is needed to take into account the risk between going to school and staying at home.
"In-person schooling is still much more beneficial both in terms of knowledge and health as well as the physical and mental development of children,” he said.
He stressed that around the world, Japan and some other countries still sent children to school during the pandemic. Meanwhile, children are less likely to be infected with the novel coronavirus.
“Children acquiring the virus only develop mild symptoms, except for those with underlying diseases or immunocompromised ones. Therefore, it is necessary to send children to schools for face-to-face studying,” Nga stressed.
In an interview with the Vietnam News Agency (VNA), Dr. Kidong Park, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Vietnam praised the Vietnamese Government’s plan to reopen schools at all levels after closures for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The social and developmental benefits of attending school outweigh the risks associated with Covid-19 for children, the official stressed, adding that the risks to children of being out of school are more significant than the risks of being in school.
Prolonged school closures contribute to adverse social, educational, health, and economic impacts for children and society, Park said, pointing out that though some coronavirus transmissions have occurred in schools, schools do not pose a higher risk of Covid-19 transmission than other settings such as workplaces, restaurants, and shopping malls.
WHO acknowledges that the Vietnamese Government has been assessing the reopening of schools, with careful consideration of the country’s outbreak situation, latest available evidence based on experiences of other countries and the concerns of some of the parents on children’s safety, Park noted.
He underscored that vaccination of children should not be considered as a pre-requisite condition for school opening. A safe learning environment can be created for children through the consistent implementation of Covid-19 prevention protocols at school as well as in the community.
The WHO representative went on to highly speak of how Vietnam has ramped up its vaccination campaign since June 2021 to reach a high vaccination coverage.
Vietnam is planning to start vaccine rollout for children aged 5-11 within the first quarter of this year. Park said he knows some Vietnamese parents are concerned about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines and explained that the vaccines which have received authorization by stringent regulatory authorities for use among children are safe and effective in preventing severe disease developments, hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19.
To ensure the safe rollout of vaccines to children aged 5-11, the official recommended the Vietnamese Government to develop a well-planned system for acquiring and distributing the vaccines as well as a robust system for monitoring, reporting and responding to safety and adverse events following immunization.
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