Torn between devil and deep blue sea

After giving authorities a tough choice between public safety and the economy, this pandemic is giving policy makers another dilemma — that of the resumption of face-to-face classes.

Indeed, getting young people back into the classrooms needs serious consideration by the education sector, as well as the parents.

In response to the fledgling pandemic two years ago, schools shut down due to the stringent community quarantines and lockdowns set up by the government.

As the restrictions eased up in the latter part of 2020, schools adapted and started implementing online and/or distance learning. The results of that experience have not been encouraging as certain issues, according to studies, continued to be highlighted, particularly the inequities faced by the marginalized and vulnerable segments of society who have fewer resources to make full use of alternative modes of learning.

Negative effects of school closures among the young, such as learning loss, high dropout rates and mental and socio-economic issues, have been voiced out.

A World Bank study on the impact of Covid-19 on Philippine households cited by the UN body found that only 20 percent of school-aged children were engaged in learning activities while adhering to community quarantine guidelines.

There is no doubt that this Covid pandemic has wrought havoc on the education of our children, and school closures are not helping any. It is the same dilemma faced all over the world as online and distance learning are proving to be not effective.

Many contend that such are only stop-gap complementary measures. Being in school and learning to socialize with peers, they say, are crucial parts of children’s education and growth as human beings.

It is probably with these in mind that the new government has stated with finality that in-person classes have to resume sooner than later. Despite numerous requests of some educators to have the suspension of face-to-face classes extended for them to be “fully-prepared,” Vice President Sara Duterte, in her first order as the Education secretary, has mandated all functioning public and private schools to transition to five days of face-to-face classes beginning 2 November.

But just as the need to resume classes is crucial to the education and well-being of children, there are certain quarters arguing that the question of health and safety is similarly important, particularly now that Covid cases are on the rise anew and the threat of monkeypox is like a Damocles sword hovering over everybody.

Although their children are anxious to go back to school, parents are also concerned that the risk of infection still exists. Sending their kids to school seems like a gamble that they have to carefully weigh. Whose responsibility would it be should their children get infected?

Is it worth all the risk? Reports of critical illness among children with existing conditions have been noted. How about the teachers? Their health and well-being should also be taken into consideration.

Would it be wiser for the national government to ride out what’s left of the school year and decentralize the process? Some quarters are suggesting that local government units be allowed to adopt approaches suitable to the health situation in their areas.

They also urge the Education department along with other relevant agencies to start focusing and preparing for the next school year. With transportation still in disarray and school buses refusing to resume operation due to the high cost of fuel, many are worried that resuming in-person classes at this time may not be the best idea.

In short, they are pushing for another year lost to the pandemic, contending that necessary measures and policies can in the interim be implemented to ensure that children can resume their studies in a safe and secure environment.

This, indeed, is the dilemma we are all facing now. Although we want our children to recover from the time taken away by the lockdowns, we certainly are also anxious of the possible consequences if we send our kids back into the fray.

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