Parents and nurseries unhappy with gov’t U-turns

Parents and guardians of children enrolled in Macau’s nursery schools are unhappy with the government’s lack of decisiveness in suspending the new school year for children under 3 years old – and then reversing the decision.
The opinion is also shared by several institutions, namely those not subsidized by the government for whom the last few days have been an organizational nightmare.
On Monday, following over a week of mixed opinions and public debate, the government retracted their decision not to allow nurseries operating under the government subsidy scheme to commence the new school year for children under the age of 3.
The announcement, which was made by an Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ) official at the Covid-19 media briefing, presented the opposite outcome. These schools would have been allowed to open their doors and restart operating as early as September 21.
Parents and nurseries have been caught unprepared again, especially nurseries not subsidized by the government. These nurseries have struggled to cope with a surge of last-minute requests to register new students over the past few days.
Contacted by the Times, a representative from a nursery school located in central Macau described how desperate the current situation was.
“It is really troublesome for us that the DSEJ keeps changing their policy at the very last minute. We did our best to handle all the inquiries and [last minute requests for] enrollment, but now they changed again and all our hard work will have been in vain,” she said. “All our staff members have been sleeping only four hours per day in the first few days of the [previous] policy to be able to answer all the parents’ solicitations. But [as soon as the news of the policy change broke] parents are already asking for a refund and are dropping out from the preschool program.”
According to the representative, the number of students at the institution had decreased drastically during the Covid-19 pandemic because the nursery had decided to start the new academic year with only one classroom instead of the normal three.
“As soon as the [previous] policy was reversed, our phone was busy from early morning till midnight,” said the representative. “Parents wanted to enquire and enroll their child for the preschool program. Most of our classes were full within a few hours and the last few spots were taken by the next day.”
A parent whose child is one of 31 newly registered students told the Times that his two-year-old son had been registered in one of the 41 government-subsidized nurseries, but in light of the announced suspension of activities at these schools, he has tried to enroll him in a non-subsidized one.
When confronted with the current situation, he said, “I don’t know if I am going to keep him here or if he will go back to the original one. We actually had acquired all the school supplies for the first one already, but we might opt to keep him here since my wife and I fear that at any moment the government might change their mind again.”
The scenario at another nursery, which was contacted by the Times, was different. In a short statement, the director of the institution said that the school had registered all the students a long time ago and that there was also a long waiting list to enroll. Hence, there was no disruption to normality at this particular institution.
“The only thing that is changing is that this year, due to compliance with the government’s guidelines, we have a reduced capacity,” the director said.
This policy change comes after a the DSEJ held a series of meetings with several educational associations over the weekend. They discussed the criticism of parents and institutions that followed the initial decision to not allow full resumption was announced on August 27.
To reopen, institutions will need to comply with five measures to ensure the protection of the children and staff against the virus. This includes social distancing, installing partition panels in certain areas of the classroom, adjusting teaching activities and curriculums to limit physical interaction, suspension of all inter-classroom activities and teaching, and preparation from families for children’s school resumption.

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