Countries with high vaccination rates like the US, UK, Canada, Singapore and Hongkong are almost back to their pre-pandemic routines. They’ve started holding public events, reopened theaters and sent out their students back to school. But, with the ongoing wave of a deadlier variant, many still find the idea distressing.
With the Department of Health (DOH)’s target to vaccinate more Filipinos by the end of October 2021, businesses and establishments are slowly reopening under more lenient quarantine restrictions. The Philippine government has also approved the pilot run of limited, face-to-face classes in low-risk areas on November 15. Prior to this approval, only the Philippines and Venezuela were yet to resume physical classes in school.
About 100 public and 20 private schools in minimal-risk COVID-19 areas have been approved by the Department of Education (DepEd) and DOH to do pilot testing. According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr.,
About 100 public and 20 private schools in minimal-risk COVID-19 areas have been approved by the Department of Education (DepEd) and DOH to do pilot testing. According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr.,"We have to pilot face-to-face (classes) because this is not just an issue for education, it's an issue for the children's mental health." He adds, "It's also an issue for the economy because we might lose a generation if we don't have face-to-face (classes)." UNICEF reports that ‘the Philippines also had one of the longest school breaks in the world, without any type of formal classes from March 2020 to October 2020. Although basic education enrollment for 2021-2022 is at 100.3% compared to the previous school year (as of 15 September 2021), an estimated 27 million students in the Philippines have lost more than a year of in-person learning.’
Previous proposals were repeatedly rejected by President Rodrigo Duterte due to concerns of more infectious COVID-19 variants. This time, he approved and allowed only those schools in areas with high vaccination rates and low risk of COVID-19 transmission. The rest of the basic education schools in the Philippines, as DepEd has decided, will continue with blended distance learning.
Under strict protocols
Based on their guidelines, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones explained that class size will be reduced to 12 learners for Kindergarten, 16 learners for Grades 1 to 3, and 20 learners for technical-vocational students. Trial classes will run for three (3) hours for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students and four (4) hours for senior highschool students. It will be conducted every other week and closely monitored for two months.
DepEd also emphasizes the local government’s role in this initiative, saying that the LGUs where nominated schools are located and parents of learners must submit a resolution and written consent, respectively, for the pilot to push through.
Schools who want to join the testing need to pass the safety and readiness assessment set by DepEd and DOH and adhere to the strict joint guidelines set by these agencies and other protocols of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) and other organizations specializing in children’s health.
Are we really ready?
Despite efforts to ‘go back to normal’, concerns are continuously being raised about our readiness to reopen schools. Who will take responsibility if a student gets COVID-19 during face-to-face classes?
“I am a bit hesitant to send my son back to school because the cases are still rising. I don’t want my kid to catch the virus.” Mina, mom of a preschooler
“My daughter is a senior high student. I guess it’s fine to go back to school for as long as the school staff are strict in implementing the safety guidelines.” Rosalie, mom of a Grade 11 student
“No way! I don’t think we are ready for this yet. Hospitals are still in full capacity. In fact, my neighbor who works for a hospital in our area told me that there are 70 patients lined up to be admitted. We’ve lost four family members due to COVID-19 and I don’t want to go through the same trauma again for my child.” Russel, father of a Grade 3 student
“I am not a believer of distance or online learning. I always want one-on-one or face-to-face interactions with my students.” Mai, kindergarten teacher
“Not all students have a good internet connection at home so, it’s really a challenge for us. Also, if the parents are too busy and they are not engaged with their kid, the child’s performance is affected.” Josie, primary school teacher
A shared responsibility
The success of this endeavor lies not only on the government and its agencies competence and proper collaboration among stakeholders but also on the support and cooperation of parents and families. Secretary Briones assures that DepEd’s utmost priority is ‘the health and safety of our learners and teachers while ensuring that learning happens and learning gaps are addressed’.
The dry run aims to provide a better understanding of lessons and allow students to interact with one another once again. ‘The lack of in-person interaction with peers tremendously impacts children’s emotional and cognitive development. The missed opportunity for immediate teacher-learner interaction on the lessons delays competency development of the learner and has a serious impact on quality learning’, UNICEF adds.
Having quality education can help our children live a better life. So, whether it’s online, blended learning or face-to-face, let's take our part in providing our children with good education.
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