Citing benefits, Gatchalian presses for safe reopening of schools

Published February 20, 2021, 12:09 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Aside from the need to hasten learning recovery following the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, learners’ continued access to safety nets adds urgency to the safe reopening of schools, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Saturday said.

Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, explained that aside from providing education, schools also offer different programs to support vulnerable learners.

He said that for some learners, the school-based feeding program is their only source of nutritious meals in a day. Schools also have healthcare programs such as immunization and deworming, while learners at risk of violence and abuse — which is already on the rise amidst the pandemic — can access child protection programs, he explained.

Social interaction in the school setting would also benefit the mental well-being of learners, many of whom remain confined to their homes since the lockdowns. By allowing the resumption of limited face-to-face classes, learners can receive better guidance from their teachers, Gatchalian reiterated.

Gatchalian reiterated how studies made by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA), and the University of Warwick in England show that schools do not appear to play a big role in spreading coronavirus as long as measures like physical distancing, wearing of masks, regular handwashing and disinfection are observed.

Experts from the CDC and PHA have pointed out that kids are more likely to acquire infections in communities than in schools while researchers from the University of Warwick found out that the absences incurred by teachers and pupils matched infection rates in the wider community, with no evidence that schools were a major driver of cases.

Gatchalian emphasized that the reopening of schools should start in low-risk areas. As of February 9, about 433 municipalities have zero active cases of the coronavirus, based on the map of the University of the Philippines’ COVID-19 tracker.

The senator has been appealing to the government to allow localized, limited face-to-face classes in the country amid the easing of the quarantine measures to reopen the economy.