Last Thursday the first case of school children in Hong Kong contracting swine flu from each other emerged, this has led to classes being suspended for all school children up to the age of secondary school for 10 school days. This includes nurseries, child care centres, kindergartens and all Primary schools. Secondary schools have not been affected due to it being exam period, even though the swine flu was clustered in a secondary school.
Staff still need to attend work, and it is expected that work will be set and children are expected to do it, it is not a holiday, and, in some local schools this 2 week period will be made up from the summer holiday, even though staff are still working during this two week period. They will effectively have two weeks less holiday this academic year. Too bad if they had made plans for these holidays - like booked travel or other frivolous activities.
Due to the minimum notice given to parents of less than 24 hours of this arrangement, there has now been a number of problems that have become apparent. Firstly, the students were told to stay away from school to avoid the risk of contracting the disease, so some parents left them at home when they went to work - leading to the arrests of those caught doing this.
Unofficial child care centres have sprung up, where people in small apartments are taking in neighbourhood children for a fee to look after them for the day (sometimes extending into the night) this usually involves the very young children and the ratio of adults to children is not the minimum required by law. They only have the normal toilet facilities of a normal domestic home, and they are usually not trained to look after children on such a scale, as those who are trained are required to be at work.
Some children who have no alternative for care are still attending school, so the teachers are still teaching, and creating work for those who are not attending. The children are required to wear masks and sit further apart from each other in the classroom. There are no rules for normal play in the playground. Other schools are putting their 'left over' children to work in organising the school library and other jobs that need to be done at the end of a school year. Others are being left unsupervised in the computer rooms to amuse themselves.
Others who are more fortunate to have a carer are organising parties on junks, hanging out together at the parks and amusement parks, playing with each in each others homes. In many cases it is not the parents who will be looking after the children, but the domestic helper, (maid in non PC terms). The parents will still need to work, even if they are teachers and their schools are empty. The domestic helpers will still be required to do all their normal duties as if the students are at school, plus look after the children. Other expatriate families have taken the opportunity to leave HK and to start their home leave early.
So what has this suspension of classes created after only one day? Children being left alone at home, unqualified people looking after children in inappropriate settings, children still attending school, children starting their holidays early, children getting out and about in large groups and children being looked after by their domestic helpers due to their parents still having to work. And in some cases, teachers holidays being cut short by two weeks. Children are still getting together to play and share their germs, so I am not sure it will be achieving the aims it was intending.
The USA stopped closing schools down as they felt the downside of closing schools outweighs the benefits. Mexico only closed schools for 5 days. HK has SARS as a historic benchmark of communicable diseases and the HK government are paranoid as SARS brought HK to its knees - a lot of money was lost in so many spheres.
The other main reason this has come about is because parents cannot be trusted to keep their children away from school when sick. We live in a time where health is not a priority and having a communicable disease like the flu is not a reason to stay at home and miss school, even though, by attending, the disease is often passed onto others. This is a very sharing attitude.
World pandemics are created by people being selfish - if they have a flu or cold workers cannot afford to miss a day of work, employers may look unfavourably on 'sick' days, travelers will lose money by not using their tickets, children will miss essential learning if they do not attend school. It is a vicious cycle of money, health and priorities. I have been guilty of it myself, but maybe we need to be looking at ourselves to have better social responsibility that starts with the individual.
If you are sick with a communicable disease, stay home and don't come out until you are well. This is my new mantra of social responsibility and pandemic reduction. When I am sick, I will not go to work.