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Opening schools

United Nations Children’s Fund Philippines chief of education Isy Faingold urged the Philippine government to draw from the experiences of other countries in safely reopening schools because the costs of prolonged school closure outweigh its benefits.

Faingold noted how Indonesia, which struggled with a surge in COVID infections and closed its schools in March last year, had managed to gradually conduct limited in-person classes even in its capital, Jakarta.

The key to Indonesia’s strategy was developing safe-school reopening guidelines and a decentralized system for decision making about reopening, Faingold said in an online forum organized by the Movement for Safe, Equitable, Quality and Relevant Education (SEQuRE).

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has led many countries to enforce distance learning for their students, Asian nations such as Japan, China, Vietnam and Indonesia have reopened their schools in all or in targeted areas.

Global practices such as the phased approach worked in other countries. Classroom bubbles were employed by the United Kingdom, Singapore and Canada. Other measures included smaller in-person classes, staggered school days or weeks, classes in shifts or reorganized groups, and having diagnostic systems upon school opening.

In the case of the Philippines, schools have already reopened but the Department of Education has yet to present clear guidelines on how to safely conduct in-person classes in areas at low risk of virus transmission, or even a road map on eventually reopening schools nationwide.

Faingold stressed that school closures have many negative effects on children, including learning loss; psychological, social and emotional impacts; increasing child labor, pregnancy and child marriage. She adds that the most affected are disadvantaged children and the longer schools remain closed, the more severe the effects.

The Philippines is among only five countries in the world that kept all schools closed since March 2020. The unfortunate combination of the lack of a viable national strategy to contain COVID-19 and an education department unwilling to take a proactive approach is resulting in a continuing education crisis that can have far reaching implications for millions of already poor Filipino schoolchildren.

Finding the right strategy and timing to safely reopen schools during a pandemic is a difficult job and that is why countries have high government officials who are supposed to be responsible for taking the country through such challenges. Is our Department of Education satisfied that the Philippine educational system remains among the very few in the world still unable to safely reopen schools?*

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