That authorities still debate on whether to send students back to school, for learning to be done in a traditional, face-to-face setup, is quite baffling. Kids of all ages, after all, are already allowed to visit malls. So why are they still restricted from returning to their classrooms? Of course, the most obvious answer is caution. It is, as the cliche goes, better to err on the side of caution, right? And with a pandemic still ongoing, one can never be too cautious. Yet, the question remains, why are kids allowed to be in malls and every other public space except schools?
That the Department of Education’s (DepEd) proposed academic calendar for 2022 to 2023 still includes provisions for a blended type of learning is quite dizzying, especially since the cons for such a setup definitely outweigh the pros for letting children out into other public establishments. Still, it is a step that face-to-face classes occupy a more prominent space in this “new normal” learning setup. Blended is better, one might argue, especially with the uncertainty looming over the future of Covid-19 in the Philippines.
While the number of cases over the past months, since the surge in January over the omicron variant passed, has been quite low, there is a semblance of safety and security in keeping a blended approach in learning. Two years into the pandemic, academic institutions and those who work in such spaces are now well-versed in handling classes virtually—or, at least, most people hope so. Nevertheless, nothing can replace the much needed social interaction a face-to-face setup would accord to learners of all ages, but especially for those who are in the more formative years of their educational experience. Most students, after all, are already vaccinated and some are even boosted. As for school personnel, many have already been inoculated, as DepEd has assured even by 2021, when face-to-face classes were tested in various areas.
A blended approach to schooling, of course, remains the best bet for DepEd. It will assuage most parents that their children would be taken care of and kept safe from Covid. But a number of parents have also been wary of the absence of social interaction, outside of family, in the lives of their children. A year of virtual learning would not have been an issue. But two years is a year too much. Besides, it is quite difficult to argue against the fact that Alert Level 1 restrictions are not highly restrictive when it comes to the movement of people in public areas—why should schools be any different?
Still, one should perhaps commend DepEd for not rushing into things. While education is undoubtedly important, a healthy body is necessary for the proper molding of the minds of learners young and not-so-young. But if one was to offer an unsolicited advice, it is perhaps this: Filipino learners need as much freedom to be back in classrooms as they are allowed to frequent various other establishments which, in the case of college learners, even include bars and clubs that have been operating in a 100-percent capacity since Alert Level 1 restrictions were first imposed.