Nina A. Loasana, Jakarta – Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim has denied that the emergence of new COVID-19 clusters at schools is a result of schools reopening. He claimed that many teachers tested positive for COVID-19 even before the reopening.
"A lot of teachers still come to school even though they conduct online teaching. Prior to school reopening, they got tested and many came back positive," he said on Thursday during a hearing with House of Representatives Commission X, which oversees education.
Nadiem said in many cases, school clusters appeared when the students were engaged in remote learning.
"The clusters emerged not because of [our] relaxation policy but due to infections prior to the reopening," he said.
Nadiem said the final decision on reopening schools did not lie with the Education and Culture Ministry but with regional administrations.
However, he said, the ministry would work hard to ensure students could go back to schools as soon and as safely as possible.
"Schools that were found to be new COVID-19 clusters would be closed immediately and they would go back to online learning," he said.
Previously Nadiem had fended off criticism over the government's decision to allow the reopening of more schools amid the pandemic, defending the policy as a difficult but necessary trade-off to maintain students' spirit of learning in a time of crisis.
"You can consider [the decision] bold in some aspects, but on the other hand, you can also see that we're a little late," Nadiem told The Jakarta Post on August 12.
The United Federation of Indonesian Teachers (FSGI) reported at least nine new school clusters emerging all across the country with 54 teachers and 138 students testing positive for COVID-19.
The FSGI urged the government to do more to protect teachers, school administrators and students during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that several teachers and school administrators had died of the illness.
According to the FSGI, at least 20 teachers and two school administrators have died of COVID-19. "Reopening schools will be risky without proper preparation," FSGI deputy secretary-general Fahriza Marta said recently.