QR code scanning for students’ registration in SRS Datuk Simon Fung

By Agnes Chai

Aug 21 2020

BACK to school in the post COVID-19 era has brought along with it a host of issues. There is the juggling with the decision of whether kids should return to their classrooms (with appropriate social distancing, masks, and endless hand sanitizing), or should kids stay at home and learn via Zoom, Google meet or other internet devices?

What about schools considering to use some combination of the two – in person classes a couple of times and distance learning the other days?

Catholic mission schools, together with other educational institutions, have reopened school in stages authorized by the authorities, with strict adherence to protocols regarding social distancing, masks and hygiene.

To give a sense of how the process is getting on and other issues involved, St Simon Educational Complex, a private school comprising a kindergarten (Taska & Tadika Datuk Simon Fung), a primary (SRS Datuk Simon Fung) and secondary (Maktab Nasional) under the management of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu shared at length with Catholic Sabah. Headmistress Winnie Kual of SRS Datuk Simon Fung (primary) spoke on behalf of the schools.

Students lining up 1 meter apart prior entering their classes in SRS Datuk Simon Fung

CS: How many of this kind of Catholic schools are there in the State? Country? How many students are served?

SSEC: There is only one Catholic Mission private school run by the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. The complex serves around 1000 students made up as follows: 640 in SRS Datuk Simon Fung, 250 in Maktab Nasional and 180 in Tadika & Taska Datuk Simon Fung.

CS: What are the key benefits of a Catholic private school?

SSEC: It adopts a holistic education, balancing character development and academic. Science and Maths are taught in English, while Social Studies is offered as an enhancement subject.

It is service-oriented. We do not see race, creed, social or economical status. Though publicized as one of the cheapest private schools in Malaysia, more children are likely to graduate due to the lesser number of students in class and dedicated teaching staff.

Thriving on a community-based system, the mission school maintains a special ethos, character and tradition that promotes love, respect, unity and person-centred education for all.

Teachers here are encouraged to be moral and role models of the Christian Faith. A build up of the Catholic Faith is provided for those who are Catholics and Christians by exposing them to the practice of the Faith. However, those who do not share the Christian Faith, like the Muslims, are encouraged to practise their own faith through Islamic lessons.

Temperature scanning on students and QR Code registration in SRS Datuk Simon Fung

CS: What are the key challenges facing today’s Catholic private schools?

SSEC: The institution is challenged, particularly in the post COVID-19 era, by lack of funds, which triggers another constant threat of good and dedicated teachers leaving for green fields or better dues. Notwithstanding, the constant surveillance of the Ministry of Education has kept the institution on its toes.

CS: How are your schools planning to reopen? What will be the balance between in-person and remote learning?

SSEC: The secondary school (Forms 1-4) and the primary school have reopened on Jul 15, while Form 5 reopened earlier on Jun 24. Since Jul 22, the entire complex is in operation with strict observance of SOP protocol for the reopening of schools, including social distancing. To ensure adherence of restrictions, the institution has implemented extra protocol – at every stair case, teachers are assigned the duty to monitor the movement of students.

In spite of extra precautions, there are a few who prefer not to come to school, thus necessitating the school to provide lessons through social media platforms, such as Google Meet or Whatsapp.

As a way to restrict movement of students from class to class, the institution provides online teaching for Mandarin, Pendidikan Moral and Pendidikan Islam.

CS: What is the role of Catholic school in serving disadvantaged populations, minorities, non-Catholics, especially during the pandemic?

SSEC: The mission school offers aid through deferred fees to next year.

Temperature scanning on students in Maktab Nasional

CS: How can Catholic schools emerge from the pandemic in a strong position?

SSEC: We strive with persistence, resilience and determination to see this pandemic as a way to reflect and remain in God’s way and stay united. Though vulnerable, we are never alone.

CS: What is your greatest fear for Catholic schools at this time?

SSEC: Our greatest fear is that the funds run low and we cannot pay the teachers and staff.

CS: What is your greatest hope for Catholic schools at this time?

SSEC: We hope that both parents and students know and understand that the institution is here to assist them in any way possible.

Many parents have lost their source of income and have to struggle with economic challenges, while students having watched, listened and viewed the adverse situation of the pandemic are actually living in fear. The burden is on the teachers and the institution as a whole, to teach them to overcome their fears by helping them to know the virtues and to learn the lessons they can gain from the pandemic.

Maktab Nasional school canteen

However, having strived through the last four months during the MCO with online learning, which most teachers were zealous in performing, has kept hopes up. The few distressed teachers struggling with the new norm of teaching, as well as a few odd complaints from parents on insufficient learning in contrast to fees paid, did not manage to dampen hope.

Yes, hope is very much needed in today’s uncertain era. Pope Francis said that the only way to conquer the coronavirus pandemic is through “the antibodies of solidarity”. He hoped that the crisis has shown the need to unite the entire human family, in the knowledge that what is done in service of others, “our giving, our vigilance and accompanying in all possible ways” will not “be in vain”.