Pilot face-to-face classes in PH a welcome move for UN, UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO

Published November 17, 2021, 6:55 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

The start of limited in-person schooling in the Philippines, led by the Department of Education (DepEd), was welcomed by various international organizations.

Students of Dumalneg Elementary School in Ilocos Norte during the first day of the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes on Nov. 15, 2021. (Photo from DepEd Tayo Ilocos Norte Facebook page)

The United Nations (UN), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) expressed support to the Philippine government as it welcomed children back to schools when the country started its pilot of limited and voluntary in-person schooling in minimal-risk areas on Nov. 15.


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“The said initiative highlights that school attendance is critical for children’s social development and continued learning,” the organizations said.

UN, UNICEF, WHO, and UNESCO also commended the leadership of the Department of Education (DepEd) that enabled the start of in-person classes and its coordination with relevant agencies — including the Department of Health (DOH).

“We acknowledge DepEd’s continuous efforts in ensuring learning continuity for children not participating in the pilot as well as efforts of local government units (LGUs), school staff, health workers, and parents to support the delivery of quality education,” the international agencies said.

Greater benefits than risks

While they acknowledge that implementing in-person schooling in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic poses many challenges and is not without risk, the organizations said “in the context of learning to live with endemic COVID-19, available evidence confirms that starting in-person classes as soon as possible brings greater benefits than risks.”

UN, UNICEF, WHO, and UNESCO said that schools are not only central to children’s education and development but are enablers and accelerators for the realization of child rights such as protection, participation, and play.

Thus, prolonged school closures have a significant impact on children’s physical and mental health.

“Without the safety net that school often provides, children are more vulnerable to abuse, gender-based violence including sexual exploitation and child marriage, and child labour that they may experience at home, especially in the stressful context of the pandemic,” the organizations said.

UN, UNICEF, WHO, and UNESCO added that the most vulnerable children and those who are unable to access remote learning are “disproportionately impacted and are at risk of never returning to the classroom.”

The international organizations also noted that globally, children account for a “small proportion” of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“The evidence has shown that schools are not drivers of transmission within the surrounding community when applying a risk-informed approach that considers safe operations and focuses on learning for the most marginalized,” they added.

Meanwhile, the international organizations pointed out that in recognition of the crucial role of educators, “they should remain a priority group in the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.”

“Public health, and safety measures, such as mask-wearing, handwashing, physical distancing, and good ventilation, remain equally important to keep every child and every teacher safe,” the UN, UNICEF, WHO, and UNESCO said.

Positive step

Likewise, the organizations noted that the pilot in-person schooling is a “positive step” which provides an opportunity to learn how to manage and minimize the risk of infections in school settings.

“This can then be applied as in-person learning expands to other areas and schools,” they said.

The international organizations also expressed commitment that they will continue to work closely with the government in support of safe in-person schooling beginning with the joint work in pilot schools and preparation for scale up.

“We are committed to continue our support to DepEd and DoH in line with shared accountability for safe school reopening, contributing to our joint efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve sustained recovery for the Philippines and its people,” they added.


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