The UNICEF on Thursday welcomed the decision of the government, through the Department of Education (DepEd), to resume limited face-to-face classes in low risk areas on a trial basis set next year.
UNICEF, in a statement, expressed readiness to support the implementation of in-person schooling while responding to the pandemic by providing technical assistance, essential supplies, learning resources for teachers, children, and parents, and developing communication strategies and materials to reach the most vulnerable population.
While it supports the resumption of limited in-person learning, UNICEF reminded that this will require a “risk-informed approach to ensure reopening of schools that considers safe operations, focuses on learning that includes the most marginalized, and guarantees the well-being and protection of children and their families.”
UNICEF noted that while studies continue to emerge, a review of the current evidence shows that while in-person schooling does not appear to be the main driver of infection spikes, “there are still risks.”
However, UNICEF clarified that these risks can be minimized with proper infection prevention and control measures.
“Children in school do not appear to be exposed to higher risks of infection compared to when not in school when mitigation measures are in place, and school staff also do not appear to be at a higher relative risk compared to the general population,” it explained.
UNICEF also noted that resumption of face-to-face learning “requires a number of policy measures and clear guidance at the national level” – some of which the government has already outlined.
This includes implementation of a communication plan with schools and community members, continuous testing, use of masks, hygiene promotion and access to functioning water, sanitation and handwashing facilities, social distancing, transportation to and from school, disinfection and ventilation of classrooms, safe food preparation, proper waste disposal and prevention of stigma and discrimination, among others.
This school year, DepEd data showed that over than 25 million Filipino children enrolled and are availing of education services through different distance learning modalities.
“Distance learning must be understood as complementary to, and not a replacement for, face-to-face learning – this is especially true for learners who have no access to the internet or technology and whose parents and caregivers are unable to provide active home-based support,” UNICEF said.
UNICEF added that that the “longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return, which also places them at heightened risks for physical, emotional and sexual violence, exploitation and abuse.”
Meanwhile, UNICEF also called on the government to prioritize teachers as recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available in the country and once frontline health personnel as well as high-risk populations are vaccinated.
“Affording teachers protection from community transmission of COVID-19 is a critical step to provide education for all, especially the most vulnerable children,” it added.
UNICEF said while the task is clear, it is also challenging – thus, all sectors must work together to improve education outcomes while ensuring equitable access and strengthening the protection, health, and safety of children.
“Together, we can overcome these trying times and safeguard the rights of children and their families for a better future beyond COVID-19,” UNICEF stressed.
For adequate preparation on the resumption of in-person classes, UNICEF said that the “Framework for Reopening of Schools and Guidance for Safe and Healthy Journeys to Schools” will provide helpful checklists.