The spike in coronavirus infections caused by Omicron dampened the start of the year and cast doubt on the government’s plan to reopen more schools for face-to-face lessons. About 100 schools reopened in November last year with more expected to follow later this month, but the latest rise in COVID-19 cases – 39,004 on Saturday – has prompted teachers to appeal for a two-week “health break”.
A survey conducted on January 10 by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines showed that more than half, or 55.4 percent, of teachers surveyed in the National Capital Region reported having flu-like symptoms. . The group called for a pause especially in areas under Alert Level 3, with ACT General Secretary Raymond Basilio noting that “[t]Teachers and students are struggling to keep running classes amid this Omicron-induced surge. Either we are sick or we are caring for family members who are. It is human to give us all a break in the midst of this epidemic, if only to allow ourselves to recover. »
The ACT explained that the two-week break is possible given that there are 200 of the 209 school days this school year required for “teaching-learning days”, and that is even more than the 180 day contact time imposed by the Department of Education (DepEd). “Two weeks of sanitary break would only mean 12 days less, still leaving us with 188 days of contact time. It’s totally doable and it won’t sacrifice the youngster’s chance of education… Denying it, on the other hand, will have serious consequences. [on] the quality of teaching and learning,” said Vladimer Quetua, president of the ACT-NCR union.
In response, the DepEd suspended classes in public schools in the NCR from January 15-22 and in Calabarzon from January 17-29 to ease the burden on the physical and mental well-being of school staff and learners. This will at least give those who are sick enough time to recover and return to school sooner.
Since 2020, the government has been under pressure to reopen schools; the Philippines was the latest country to resume face-to-face classes and in the process disrupt the education of at least 27 million students, according to Unicef estimates. This disruption, Unicef said, had negative effects on students’ emotional and cognitive development and, for many, made them more vulnerable to abuse, gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and child marriage. children, and child labour. The pandemic has also taken a toll on the mental health of children, as a 2021 survey by Unicef and Gallup in 21 countries showed: a median of one in five young people aged 15-24 said he often felt depressed and had little interest in doing things. And as the pandemic drags on, Unicef has warned that the longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to return.
The shutdowns have also forced teachers and students to adapt to the blended learning system that combines traditional face-to-face interaction with online classes and multimedia lessons. But for developing countries like the Philippines, blended learning has only highlighted disparities in access to education and technology, and further disadvantaged poor students. It has also affected the quality of education as it has led to situations where students have lost the will to study and have forced parents to answer the modules themselves. Then there were stories of students literally climbing mountains, rooftops or trees to get a mobile signal or internet access so they could submit school requirements or talk to a teacher, exacerbating “educational poverty” because many other poor students do not even own a telephone, much more a laptop.
The delays in resuming face-to-face classes, however, are linked to interrelated issues that once again boil down to the government’s poor response to COVID-19, the weakest in the region in fact: lack of medical support or aid. financial support given to teachers who contract the virus, access to free testing in general, and low vaccination rates compounded by vaccine hesitancy, not to mention the ability of schools to implement health protocols to protect their staff and their students. Unless these issues are addressed immediately and effectively, the impact on the future of Filipino school children who have already missed educational opportunities for two years in the pandemic could be more dire, especially for the poor and marginalized. . And as more contagious variants of the coronavirus continue to evolve and wreak havoc on people’s activities and mobility, the toll on children’s education and mental health worsens.
“Without urgent action and increased investment, COVID-19 and the pre-existing learning crisis could turn into a learning disaster…We need to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and we must immediately fill the learning gaps this pandemic has created. Unless we do, some children may never catch up,” Unicef said.
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