Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim asked the Minister for Social and Family Development whether there are plans to implement the use of clear masks in preschool settings in respect of infants and toddlers who, in the process of language acquisition, may suffer delays due to an inability to observe the lip movement of teachers and adults.
1 We recognise that the perception and articulation of speech sounds are important aspects of early language development. While there is limited literature on the effects of mask wearing on language learning and development, studies suggest that mask wearing has a greater impact at the pre-primary and lower primary levels, where young children are deprived of language cues from the movement of the preschool educator’s lips and facial expression.
2 To limit the spread of COVID-19 in our preschools and keep children and staff safe, all preschool staff are required to wear masks within the preschool. To support young children’s learning and development, preschools have the flexibility to use face masks with a transparent feature that allows the wearer’s mouth to be visible. Such face masks are available on the market. In 2021, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) received donations of over 7,000 reusable masks with transparent windows and distributed these to staff and children in the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) and KidSTART to help children with developmental needs as well as children from low-income families.
3 In line with the national transition towards COVID-19 resiliency, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and ECDA will gradually ease mask-wearing requirements in schools, preschools, and Early Intervention centres to better support children’s learning and development needs. For a start from 29 March 2022, selected teachers and students with additional or developmental needs have the flexibility to remove their masks during language and literacy lessons. The mask-off provision is also offered to Government-funded Early Intervention centres running EIPIC. This is a carefully considered move, taking into consideration the high vaccination coverage among educators and children aged 5 and above, and feedback from educators and parents to better support our students’ learning needs while mitigating the risk of spread of COVID-19. We will consider whether to extend this arrangement to more settings at a later stage.