Tell the Guards to Open Up… the Schools

The OLPSian Times’ Editorial — (March 2022)

Cartoon by: Michael Angela Quilingan — 10 St. Catherine of Siena

With the start of campaign season last month, proclamation rallies have riddled headlines in all corners of the country. Amid roaring crowds seen supporting their favored candidates for the past week, concerns about public health safety have been raised. While election-related gatherings of tens of thousands of people both indoors and outdoors have been predominantly snubbed by the nation’s COVID-19 task force, children’s wish of being welcomed back by campuses have yet to become reality.

The problem largely lies on bureaucratic difficulties; a reasoning not so new for the very frustrated Filipino. For caravans and political rallies, local governments are given the authority to approve such events that attract possible super-spreader events, while something as small-scale but essential as pilot face-to-face classes need the direct approval of Malacanang and the IATF. This inefficiency bares the poor decision making skills of authorities that pave the way for nuisances Filipinos — children at that in this case, have to cope with.

Despite several successful runs in tertiary and basic education schools that justify the possibility of opening campuses, enough schools are yet to open their campuses to allow a level of functionality resembling that of pre-pandemic times. Until the last major pilot run, only a maximum of 120 schools in the country were allowed to participate in the trials.

With this irony, one could argue that to speed up the process of pagbabalik-eskwela, students and teachers must be viewed as political candidates requesting local rally permits for themselves to ensure swift approval. Until all schools have reopened, Filipino children continue to be deprived day by day of their well-deserved rights to quality education that is accesible and enjoyable.

However, when there is a will, there is a way. As of the update last December, no COVID-19 cases were transmitted during pilot runs and only vaccinated staff were allowed to facilitate in-campus learning. The Department of Education has proved through this that safe and COVID-free school re-openings are possible with existing logistics and manpower provided that protocols are strictly maintained.

Moreover, the Philippines has reached herd immunity with 70.76% of the entire population being fully inoculated as per the DOH COVID-19 bulletin last March 7, suggesting that communities are starting to be safe enough for students to attend face-to-face classes.

Through strengthened vaccine information drives and incentives to convince hesitant parents and teaching personnel, combined with the head start of pediatric vaccination in kids aged 5–11, authorities can now take steps towards bringing children back to school in the coming months.

More importantly, changes are needed in the country’s COVID-19 bureaucracy to ensure swift but effective management of basic services like education in the midst of a health crisis. An issue entirely manageable through proactive and responsive governance should not be a hindrance to delivering education that is urgent for every child.

Since the reopening of the first school year under the pandemic, it has always been high time for authorities to bring kids back to school. Being the last country standing in the world to have not fully reopened its campuses, it becomes all the more of an imperative to act swiftly. With sizable gatherings happening here and there in anticipation of a change of seats later this year, the Filipino child’s wish of going back to school is a relatively very simple gift to give.

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