BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei will restart in-school learning on June 2 for students who are sitting for public exams, the education minister announced in a press conference on Thursday.

Students in Year 6, 8, 10 Express, 11, 12 and 13 will be the first group to return to schools in the first phase of reopening, while other pupils will continue with online lessons, YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman said.

The partial resumption of schools comes nearly 11 weeks after all public and private schools, including sixth form centres as well technical and vocational education institutions, were shut to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The government started relaxing COVID-19 restrictions last week as the number of coronavirus cases has slowed in Brunei over the past month.

Teachers will conduct face-to-face learning from June 2-13 in the first phase of school reopening, after which the education ministry will decide whether to expand the number of returning students in the next phase.

YB Dato Hj Hamzah said each phase of the school restart will be announced every two weeks to avoid public confusion.

Schools will be given the authority to determine the number of students who will attend lessons in classrooms and those who are allowed to learn from home if they have internet access and video conferencing tools.

Reassuring parents that it is safe for students to return to schools, the minister said schools have been working behind the scenes to ensure safety guidelines are observed.

“MoE has carried out dry runs from the starting point when students begin their journey to schools and return home,” he said, adding that teachers have rehearsed safety procedures that need to be practised the moment pupils arrive.

The minister said parents can negotiate with school leaders on allowing their child to continue online lessons if they are still not confident in letting their child return to schools.

“Even though we will [restart] face-to-face learning, it is part of MoE’s plans to continue online learning even after the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

YB Dato Hj Hamzah said many countries have already adopted the approach of conducting classroom learning and online lessons as part of their curriculum.

In the ministry’s guidelines to schools, students must be seated at least one metre apart from one another and only one parent is permitted to send or fetch their child.

Outdoor and physical activities, school assemblies, as well as drama classes are still not allowed.

Hostels will remain closed and students who live far away from school can carry on with home-based learning five days a week.

When asked whether it is compulsory for students to use the BruHealth app to enter school premises, the minister said only teachers and school staff will need to scan their school’s QR code. All schools under the purview of MoE have applied for the QR code.

Teachers who are at a higher risk of COVID-19 can communicate with their school leaders on the best possible way to hold lessons.

“Certain schools have more teachers in the vulnerable category, this means that not many teachers will be available if [there’s no flexibility].

“It’s also not practical if everything is online, so there’s a need to find an alternative method. One way is for such teachers to [conduct classroom learning] at a specific time and they can work from home after that,” he added.

Responding to a question on Bruneians studying overseas, YB Dato Hj Hamzah said 742 students chose to stay abroad but plans are being made to repatriate them during the summer holidays.