In this season of uncertainties, one of the biggest is the safety of classes that are due to open late this month for the start of the 2020-21 school year.
As of last Wednesday, the Department of Education said a total of 22,223,806 students had listed up to indicate their intention to enroll in the coming school year – 20.8 million in public schools from kindergarten to high school and 1.35 million in private schools.
But this number of 22,223,806 students ready for school this year is only about 80 percent of last school year’s total of 27.7 million. This means that about 5.5 million students are not enrolling this year. These may be students whose families have been hit hard by the pandemic, mostly job losses. Some are not enrolling out of fear that they may get the still raging coronavirus in the classrooms.
There is indeed much uncertainty about safety in classrooms, considering that the virus is known to be able to travel five to 12 feet in the air in the cough, sneeze, or the simple exhalation of breath by an infected person. Thus school seats are planned to be spaced, students will be required to wear face masks, and all will be required to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.
But outside classrooms – in hallways and playgrounds, in buses, jeepneys, light rail coaches, and all other means of transportation — schools have no control.
Some schools are planning to hold some classes online, but many families around the nation are not capable of joining such classes. They either don’t have the proper equipment or they have no one in the family capable of supervising such home study.
Early in the pandemic, President Duterte declared that he would not allow face-to-face classes in the country until a vaccine is available. There are several possible vaccines said to be in the final stages of testing, but the earliest approval is expected to be in December.
What happens now to the planned August 24 opening of the school year? Will President Duterte go back on his declaration that he will not allow-face-to-face classes until there is a vaccine?
Congress recently enacted RA 11480 authorizing the President to move the opening date of the school year during a state of emergency or calamity. Before this, the law — RA 7977 — provided that the school year should start “no later than the last day of August.”
With the new law and with President Duterte concerned about the ongoing pandemic causing undue losses of lives among the nation’s children, we may not see the school year opening on August 24. It could come very much later – and it will all depend on how well the world is able to deal with the ongoing calamity of COVID-19.