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Raymond Han

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Monday with the Editor: School's out!


Yes! School's out from today till the end of the month. That's three weeks of rest and relaxation for the young ones.

In March, students found themselves stuck at home for two weeks only a few days after they had returned to school after their one-week Term One holidays. The new school term was effectively shortened by two weeks because of the SARS outbreak then.

However, the Ministry of Education has not taken back the two weeks of lost curriculum time. Instead, it has trimmed the June Holidays by a week from four weeks to three weeks. That's why the school hols start today, instead of a week ago.

Schools have had to make do with the shortened curriculum time to prepare their students for the Mid-Year Exams. Primary students got their report cards last week, but secondary school students will only get theirs when school reopens on 30 June 2003.

Singapore may have been taken out of the list of SARS-affected countries, but the MOE certainly isn't resting on its laurels. It is discouraging - and rightly so - students' travel to SARS-affected countries during the June holidays. But it relented on the requirement for foreign students travelling only to non-SARS affected countries to place a $1,000 deposit.

Instead, foreign students in national schools and the Institute of Technical Education will only need to re-apply for a new Student Pass once, to facilitate the signing of an undertaking by their local sponsors to assume full responsibility for their wards. Students in polytechnics and universities do not need to re-apply for Student Passes at all.

MOE's stance certainly isn't harsh. It is well-meaning. Remember, when it took the soft approach in March, parents of some students took their wards overseas for holidays during the two-week extended holiday period when these students were supposed to stay home to help contain the SARS outbreak. In late April, a foreign student and his mother who returned from Jakarta were admitted to TTSH and diagnosed as probable SARS cases.

It just takes one ignorant parent to undo the good work of so many others. That's why over the past few days, students have had to complete forms declaring their intentions of travelling overseas. We can only hope that parents will be honest enough to declare their overseas holiday arrangements. But, if some of them are not, we may not need to worry, for I am sure there are records kept of departures at immigration checkpoints and hopefully these records will be used to ferret out the dishonest among them. SARS is no laughing matter - lives are at stake here - and it is only right that we ignore privacy concerns for the greater good.

Today, as the GCE O & A Level Mother Tongue Language Exams take place across the island, we can expect stringent procedures in place to protect our students.

Students coming back for remedials will have to reach school by 7am for temperature checks before they can attend class. This early-hour procedure is to facilitate daily reporting to MOE by a certain time. Those participating in camps will have to take their temperatures before they sleep and after they wake up. Students who feel like walking into their school will find themselves stopped at the entrance and asked to take their temperatures and given COOL labels before being allowed in.

These are trying times. In my 45 years on this earth, this is the first time I have seen people walking around in the streets wearing masks. We must continue to be vigilant against any possible occurrence of SARS cases. Are the procedures cumbersome? I think we should ask ourselves whether we want SARS to hit us again.

NEW WEB SITES is the official SARS Web site in Singapore. It pools together SARS-related information from all Singapore Government sites and presents it for various local and foreign audiences. It also contains the latest SARS-related press releases and selected media articles.

Click New Web sites for the rest of the list.

We are now 5407 pages thick and growing.

Public Holidays NATIONAL DAY is the next public holiday. It falls on Saturday 9 August 2003.



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9 June 2003

Singapore Time