By MARK LAVARRO
MANILA — Teachers and youth groups urged the Philippine government to build public confidence and fund the safe return of face-to-face classes, following reports of the reduced number of schools that will be participating in the pilot run.
“While it’s unfortunate that the already conservative target of 120 schools upon its approval was further reduced to a mere 30, it is understandable that many are still scared and unprepared to try out physical classes amid the pandemic. After all, nearly two years into this pandemic, the government has not implemented sound responses to the health crisis and only instilled fear through its militarist lockdown, while leaving us to die either by COVID-19 or hunger,” Alliance of Concerned Teachers secretary-general Raymond Basilio said.
Without ample funding, the groups said that it is a “defeatist trend” and may “very well lead to never reopening schools.”
As it stands, the Philippines is one of the only two countries that have yet to open schools. In a statement, the Department of Education said the last 29 schools that dropped out of the pilot testing were due to the disapproval of parents and local government units due to the high rate of COVID-19 cases in their communities.
The National Economic and Development Authority reported that the Philippines will incur P11 trillion (US$220.32 billion) in productivity losses over the next 40 years due to the failure to resume face-to-face classes as it limits the students’ abilities.
ACT said the government should put their act together and build confidence among stakeholders by addressing their valid concerns. Apart from the earlier joint memorandum between the health and education departments, ACT said the government can further increase public confidence through:
1. Active case-finding through testing at least 10 percent of a barangay population to ensure accuracy of the low/minimal risk classification, especially as these far-flung areas are already known to have limited testing and treatment capacity;
2. Daily antigen testing of teachers and learners who will participate in in-classroom learning;
3. Deployment of nurse or any health personnel in participating schools;
4. Hiring of sanitation personnel;
5. Treatment support for those who may get infected with COVID-19 during the course of the pilot run;
6. Hazard pay for participating education workers.
7. Ample funding provision from the national government.
Kabataan Partylist, in the explanatory note of the bill pushing for safe and, phased reopening of schools, said the “needed funding is not only necessary but well within our means if the current administration is willing to forgo allocations in the billions of confidential and intelligence funds and other lump sums which are very prone to misuse and abuse.”
The proposed funding amounting to an estimated P184 billion ($3.6 billion) includes mass testing for learners and education personnel, priority education health facilities and supplies, hiring of health personnel, internet allowance, and gadgets for teachers along with hazard and overload pay, and a stock fund for free medical treatment for COVID-19 patients.
Apart from this, they have also long been pushing for “#LigtasNaBalikEskwela” safe, phased reopening of schools, limited face-to-face classes, “#10kStudentAid” education aid as well as “#WalangIwanan” inclusive mechanisms to leave no student behind.
“The number of schools that will participate in the pilot testing is already low to begin with, and is further reduced as we approach its implementation. That is 30 out of 47,000 public schools nationwide,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raoul Manuel, adding that the government can afford to open cinema houses safely but not schools.
Meanwhile, CHED earlier expressed its interest to pursue limited face-to-face classes for all degree programs in low-risk areas by next year. President Duterte has no statement on this as of this writing. (JJE)