School opening remains an open question

Published August 1, 2020, 10:29 PM

by Manila Bulletin


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.