Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Monday urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to form its panel of experts that would guide the pilot tests of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.
Since the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) considers the country’s broader health situation, Gatchalian said that the DepEd’s panel of experts should look at the pilot testing program and resumption of face-to-face classes with a more specialized approach, considering the unique situations of schools.
“Hindi naman ibig sabihin na dahil nag-cancel ng face-to-face classes, titigil na rin tayo sa pilot schools (Not that face-to-face classes has been cancelled means we stop pilot schools). This is a good way for our scientists to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 to our learners,” said Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, in a Senate panel hearing
Though the DepEd is eyeing pilot tests in 1,065 schools, Gatchalian supports the proposal to conduct the pilot program in a smaller number of schools and with smaller number of students to gather local evidence on the safe resumption of face-to-face classes.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) cited a global study of 191 countries which showed no association between school status and COVID-19 infection rates. The PPS also said that one year of school closure is equivalent to two years lost on learning.
For the PPS, the effects of prolonged school closures on health and development—including learning losses, increased exposure to violence, sexual abuse, and early pregnancies—can be mitigated if the highest standards of safety measures are observed.
“The damage of school closures can be deeper and longer. During pre-COVID, our learners did not do well in international large-scale assessments and our national achievement scores were not doing great. And now, because of the lack of access to face-to-face education, internet, and gadgets, the learners are left on their own,” Gatchalian said.
The senator also stressed the need to prioritize teachers in the COVID-19 vaccination program. In Indonesia, for instance, teachers were inoculated ahead of vulnerable groups.