ROUGHLY TWO MONTHS before the filing of candidacies for the 2022 polls start, we’ve seen presidential and vice-presidential tandems and senatorial lineups fielded. Politicians have made their plans to run for office known. Don’t we wish to see the same clarity, energy, and haste in coming up with a roadmap for the reopening of schools? Classes are set to start in September. Yet students are likely to spend another year attending classes from home despite the challenging remote learning setup.
Is this coming school year any different from the previous one? Are there necessary pivots and improvements on learning systems based on assessments? And when can we safely bring students back inside the classrooms?
A recent Asian Development Bank study stated that global south economies have lost one third of a year’s worth of learning due to school closures and the lack of effectiveness in remote learning. Children from lower-income and disadvantaged families suffer more. They also lose access to public health and social welfare services previously delivered in schools.
Prolonged closures will have a significant reduction on the future productivity and lifetime earning potential. If learning loss is likened to a cancer left untreated, we can expect metastasizing and further decline. Studies show that students who suffer from cognitive learning losses can expect lower lifetime incomes and levels of well-being. Our economy will be at risk of having a less skilled labor force, hampering our growth prospects.
With a vision of accessible quality education for all, we are pushing for the immediate and safe reopening of schools. The price to pay for learning losses will be difficult to carry and will impact the future generation.
In this pandemic-accelerated learning crisis, we can use global evidence and experience to walk us through school reopening.
The Philippine Pediatric Society backed a global study that the reopening of schools has not been associated with an increase in COVID-19 infection rates in the community. When transmission in communities is low, we don’t see spikes of cases in schools. We can also place layers of risk mitigation activities to further reduce school transmission. These interventions include:
o at the home level: personal and household health monitoring;
o at the school level: water, sanitation, hygiene facilities, proper ventilation, universal wearing of face masks, safe distancing, assignment of response personnel;
o at the community level: contact tracing, safe transportation, and testing.
From a systems perspective, we can look to the US-Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s operational considerations for COVID-19 mitigation in low resource and international settings.
These efforts will be complemented by the vaccination program in LGUs. Right now, we see teaching and non-teaching personnel getting their jabs. Not only are they getting individual protection from COVID-19, it also boosts our confidence to restart education.
And what about the Delta variant? Well, so long as we have not reached herd immunity, variants will appear. But education must continue. We know that Delta has a higher transmission rate than other variants because of a mutation in its spike protein. We also know that, as with the rest of COVID-19 variants, it is spread as an aerosol. Therefore, the mitigation activities we stated earlier would work even with Delta.
In saying so, face-to-face classes should already be allowed in areas with low-risk of COVID-19. We even dare say that these operational aspects are already covered by the Department of Education’s and Department of Health’s learning continuity plan. In fact, we are hearing some anecdotes of limited face-to-face classes in some provinces or municipalities. Local government units (LGUs) and families are ready to bring children back to school. The private sector, education institutions, and civil society have expressed their support and readiness for the reopening of schools.
School reopening requires strong political will and follow-through. Parents, schools, LGUs, and some in the bureaucracy have displayed this in the past months. We remain hopeful that our top education decision-makers can muster enough courage to reopen schools.
If politicians can, with conviction, announce plans for the elections this early, then surely it is possible to allow a roadmap for school reopening.
Love Basillote is Executive Director of Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), while Marco de los Reyes is PBEd’s Head of Research and Policy.