One of the biggest challenges that we faced under the COVID-19 pandemic is ensuring public safety and health while preventing the collapse of the economy and loss of livelihood of a substantial number of people. The resumption of face-to-face classes is another tough dilemma being faced by our authorities and policymakers.
The school year 2021-2022 has started, and for the second year in a row, elementary and secondary school students will be kept away from classrooms and forced to endure “blended learning.” This policy has been criticized by many, considering that it has been problematic in various aspects. However, it is still considered a viable option for carrying out schooling amid a pandemic.
“Blended learning” is a combination of classes conducted online for students and schools that have reliable internet connectivity while printed learning modules for others who have less access to online learning or those living in geographically isolated or less connected areas.
Even if the blended learning program is managed efficiently, there are inevitable detriments to students from not being able to attend in-person classes thus depriving the right to learn of close to 30 million students.
Unicef Philippines has voiced out the negative effects of school closures among children, such as learning loss, high dropout rates, and mental health and socio-emotional issues.
“The associated consequences of school closures – learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of drop out, child labor, and child marriage – will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages,” the Unicef Philippines added.
The reopening of classes is also being aggressively advocated by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), which is supporting a proposal reportedly being studied by the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to pilot-test face-to-face classes in “low risk” areas of the country.
The arguments in favor of face-to-face classes are valid, yet it is still premature. In countries where vaccination rates are very high, schools have reopened with extra safety protocols in place.
The Philippines has only vaccinated about 12.5 percent of the population and slightly less than 20 percent of the targeted 70 million people. None of those vaccinated have included children in their elementary and secondary, which should be of concern given the evidence that younger people are more susceptible to the now-prevalent Delta variant of the COVID-19.
Therefore, the risk of infection for children exists, therefore this is a gamble every parent has to weigh.
There’s something that needs to be done about the education of children during this pandemic. This is a dilemma that confronts governments and families. School closures jeopardized the education of our children while online and distance learning modes proved to be not that effective. At most, these are considered as stop-gap measures, because being in school learning and socializing with classmates is crucial to children’s growth and development.
It is practical for the government to study various ways and strategies in which schools can be reopened. The division offices of the Department of Education (DepEd) should work hand in hand with the concerned local government units (LGUs) and stakeholders in adopting strategies and approaches suited to the health situations in their localities, in order for them to prepare for the resumption of classes in a safer environment when the right time comes.