Manila, Pasay City, and Marikina City were the first local government units (LGUs) in the National Capital Region (NCR) to declare a weeklong health break, which started Jan. 14, 2022. Classes at all levels in public and private schools were suspended. This was supported by the Department of Education (DepEd), when it issued a circular “Reiteration of the Policy on Academic Ease and Allowing the Suspension of Classes and other Teaching-Related Activities in the Midst of the Surge in COVID-19 Cases.” In relation to this development, the chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has also reported that at least 126 universities in the NCR and Calabarzon have exercised their discretion to suspend classes.
Academic ease is, indeed, timely and beneficial. Suspension of classes and other teaching-related activities will contribute greatly to the restriction of mobility in the NCR-Plus area at a time of critical risk of COVID-19 infection brought on by the Omicron-driven surge.
The DepEd had declared that its regional offices are authorized to declare suspension of classes “based on their reliable assessment of the health status of their teachers and learners and the IATF risk classification” for “as long as the period of class suspension does not exceed two weeks in order to avoid a prolonged disruption in the current school calendar.” Coming as it does amid a critical juncture in the protracted national health emergency brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it is appropriate that the term “health break” has come to the fore. Aside from triggering a deep recession, the pandemic has also given rise to a learning crisis with profound impact on the mental and physical health of students, teachers, administrators, and non-academic school employees.
Since March 2020, or almost 22 months ago, distance learning has been the predominant mode in basic education—with face-to-face classes introduced only lately and limited to a few pilot sectors. Students and their parents, as well as teachers, have faced great difficulties, especially due to poor internet connectivity. “Screen fatigue” and eye strain have also emerged as common complaints due to prolonged episodes of virtual learning. Outside of school activities, many teachers and students have had to deal, too, with high-anxiety situations such as job layoffs and “cabin sickness” brought on by prolonged lockdowns.
Recover, refresh, and reimagine—these are the three imperatives that face the members of the academic community.
Many teachers and students are among the thousands that have been infected in the recent COVID surge brought on by the highly transmissible Omicron variant—or they are taking care, too, of infected family and household members.
The Department of Health (DOH) has prescribed a seven-day home quarantine and isolation for those recently infected, most of whom are asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms.
A health break will reinvigorate and spur them toward greater productivity and enhanced creativity. It will also enable them to reimagine new pathways toward a better and more resilient “new normal” beyond the pandemic.