Is safe and gradual reopening of PH schools possible?

Published September 16, 2021, 4:05 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

Before the first week of the newly-opened school year ends, President Duterte was once again urged to push for gradual reopening of schools — especially in low-risk areas.

Filipino students attend face-to-face classes before the COVID-19 pandemic (ALI VICOY / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Let us be clear: we are not asking for a total revert to in-person classes, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country and the world,” Child Rights Network (CRN) said in a statement on Thursday, Sept. 16.

What the group is asking is for the President to “support the expert opinion for a gradual and voluntary approach to school reopening that will guarantee every Filipino child’s safety and holistic development in the long run.”

The largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines also noted that at this point in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response, the “gradual reopening of schools is not only possible but necessary.”

Since March 2020, schools in the Philippines have been closed – making the country one of the only two countries that are yet to have a date for reopening schools along with Venezuela.

Grade school teachers of St. Francis of Assisi College meet with their pupils online via Schoology, a web-based learning management system (ALI VICOY / MANILA BULLETIN)

Given this, CRN is calling on Duterte to uphold the position of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Education (DepEd) the Philippines should “immediately commence” the pilot testing of gradual in-person classes starting with 120 schools in low-risk areas, with proper safety protocols, and on a voluntary basis.

READ:

DepEd: 120 public and private schools being eyed for pilot face-to-face classes

The group said that this position is in line with the expert recommendations of several child rights organizations, including UNICEF, that call on the government to jumpstart a “gradual reopening of schools following a science-backed approach.”

How to safely reopen schools

In the gradual reopening of schools, the group said that the government can start with pilot testing in schools located in minimal and low-risk areas and adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) conditions.

Grade school teachers of St. Francis of Assisi College meet with their pupils online via Schoology, a web-based learning management system (ALI VICOY / MANILA BULLETIN)

Citing the World Health Organization-UNICEF, the group noted that “starting the pilot testing with pre-school and primary grades as they are less likely to be infected or pass on the infection to others.”

The group also noted that implementing the pilot testing voluntarily – upon thorough consultations with concerned local government units and parent-teacher associations and with the option for parents to continue distance learning modalities for their children – can also be starting point.

Implementing minimum public health measures prescribed by the authorities such as wearing mask, handwashing, physical distancing, adequate ventilation as well as the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy should be taken into consideration.

Moreover, the group stressed the need to set criteria and mandatory procedures for temporary school closure in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

READ:

Students, parents call for resumption of face-to-face classes as SY 2021-2022 opens

“Phased implementation of face-to-face hours can also be introduced gradually in schools that qualify the criteria that will be set, where a small group of students can initially take a few hours of classes in their respective schools each day,” CRN said.

“Lessons can be culled from this pilot testing, and from there, we hope evidence-based guidelines can be gradually implemented in more schools,” the group added.

Learn from other countries

Meanwhile, the group urged the President “to look into how the gradual school opening approach has been successfully implemented” in countries like China, Mexico, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Personnel of a school in Taguig City wears a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while distributing modules and other school supplies to be used by kindergarten students. (ALI VICOY / MANILA BULLETIN)

The government, it added, can also learn from the experience of countries like Sweden and Denmark, where physical classes were initially only allowed for students in lower grade levels, as they are less vulnerable to contracting the COVID-19 virus.

In Lao PDR, CRN noted the provision of WASH facilities also facilitated the safe reopening of classes. “Localized ‘cluster outbreaks’ were reported and effectively contained through rapid school re-closures in South Korea,” it added.

Overall, CRN reiterated that school closures should always be the “last resort” during the pandemic as its “dire ramifications will continue to haunt our nation” for generations to come.

“The learning losses incurred will not only aggravate the existing inequality in education but will also translate to lost earnings for our economy over time,” it added.

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Not allowing students to attend face-to-face classes could be ‘dangerous’, says CHED

 
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