The new normal – shorter hours, smaller classrooms

Lyna Mohammad

On June 2, students who are preparing for public examinations this year were greeted by a new reality as they returned to school following two months of virtual learning.

From shorter hours to smaller classrooms, an array of measures has been put in place to tighten the lid on COVID-19 in the country.

And then there is the omnipresence of hand sanitisers and floor markers to remind students of the importance of proper hygiene and social distancing.

For Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam Secondary School (SMJA), early preparations for school re-opening proved fruitful.

In the third week of Ramadhan, the school held a dry run of its new operations, based on the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Ministry of Health (MoH). Through an evaluation of the feedbacks generated, a few modifications to the old school rituals were made.

Its Principal Hajah Norhashimah binti Haji Burut said, “To ensure social distancing is observed, we decided to split up Years 8 and 11 students by placing them in separate buildings because we needed bigger classrooms to accommodate the 390 students.”

Other changes the SMJA team have been made include longer recesses, staggered class schedules and a four-day week.

She added that the remaining day involves home-based learning, while students in Years 7, 9 and 10 will continue with distance learning until the next phase of the reopening is announced.

At Haji Mohd Salleh Primary School in Sungai Hanching, a study was carried out on the impact of online learning on academic performance and mental health.

Using the data drawn from the research, its Deputy Headmaster Md Salleh Hamidy bin Awang Julidy said, they have set up strategies to identify and assist teachers and students who struggle to cope with the “new normal”.

He added, “We did a survey on how many of our students were allergic to hand sanitiser and soaps, and how many parents were able to prepare daily packed lunch for their children. The data collected was then used to design a standard operating procedure (SOP) that is in line with the MoH and MoE mandates.

“Before June 2, we made it our priority to educate teachers, students and their parents on COVID-19 and brief them on the new school system amid this global pandemic.”

A similar move was made by Sengkurong Sixth Form Centre (PTES) by sending out circulars to students and parents prior to the school reopening.

“We trust that our students are old enough to follow basic preventive measures such as keeping proper hygiene, practising social distancing and wearing face masks correctly,” said its Deputy Principal (Administration) Mohammed Yussainie bin Haji Zaini.

The school has also set up temperature checkpoints at the premises as well as positioning signboards at frequented areas to remind students on the do’s and don’ts amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Mohammed Yussainie said the classroom has also been downsized to a maximum of 19 students per room to accommodate the one-metre-distance rule while science labs restricted to 10 students at a time.

Meanwhile, for schools that are perched between land and water such as Awang Semaun Secondary School (SMAS), special attention had to be made during the dry-run phase.

According to its Principal Siti Marienah binti Haji Umar, it was imperative that key pick-up and drop-off zones were first identified to be used as temperature checkpoints.

“Most students come to school by boat. Thus, the Transport Unit at the MoE assisted us during the dry-run by performing a simulation on the movement of students at the school jetty,” she said.

Changes have also been made to the class schedules including dividing students into three recesses to avoid overcrowding.

Siti Marienah acknowledged the challenge of adapting to the new practice but was optimistic that students and teachers will settle into the “new normal” once the initial shock has subsided.