Another milestone in this long pandemic will be marked today (Dec. 6, 2021), this time leaning on the bright side as the Department of Education (DepEd) confirmed that 177 schools, including 28 public schools in Metro Manila, will join a pilot in-person classes.
Aside from the loss of lives and blow to the economy, the pandemic has drastically disrupted the educational system. Students were forced to undergo distance learning, even those who do not have the financial capacity or the gadgets to connect online. Teachers were compelled to devise ways to teach amid their own woes at home, even if they lack the skills to deliver a convincing lecture online. Allied industries of education, such as canteen caterers, school buses, tutorial businesses, etc. were left on their own to survive. This scenario was dubbed the “pandemic of academic loss.”
The Philippines, which is among the last in the world to allow face-to-face classes, faces an uphill battle. Studies in the future will show how far students have been left behind in courses that needed a classroom-based instruction such as those of the sciences and medicine. This was supported by a statement from UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, “Prolonged and repeated closures of education institutions are taking a rising psycho-social toll on students, increasing learning losses, and the risk of dropping out, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable. Full school closures must therefore be a last resort and reopening them safely a priority.”
With a steady low number of new COVID cases, given the scenario that Omicron would be kept off our borders, restarting face-to-face learning is a good—and timely—move.
The DepEd also said that the assessment period for the initial run of pilot face-to-face classes will be until Dec. 22, 2021. The pilot study is set to end on Jan. 31, 2022. Results of the pilot testing will be presented to the President in February 2022. If all goes well, and there were no virus exposures for both teachers and students, expansion may start on March 7, 2022, paving the way for some sense of normalcy for the education sector.
In light of this, the opening of schools after a long grueling pandemic encouraged the resiliency in the educational system. According to public policy organization Brookings Institution, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in at least one positive thing: a much greater appreciation for the importance of schools.
“As parents struggle to work with their children at home due to school closures, public recognition of the essential caretaking role schools play in society has skyrocketed. As young people struggle to learn from home, parents’ gratitude for teachers, their skills, and their invaluable role in student wellbeing, has risen. As communities struggle to take care of their vulnerable children and youth, decision makers are having to devise new mechanisms for delivering essential services from food to education to health care.”
There was no time in our recent history when education was disrupted this much. The pandemic may have upended decades of progress in the delivery of learning but it is not yet too late. There are positive aspects that can be culled from distance learning, while there are also parts of it that need to be improved or totally discarded. Some things are also now underscored as priorities, such as internet connectivity and the need to ensure a safe and clean environment for learning.
The pilot opening of 177 schools is just the start of a long journey ahead. May these schools find their way to the right destination so that we could anticipate the opening of the next academic year with students inside the classroom.