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Philippines readies pilot plan for school reopenings

Catholic groups urge govt to think of Covid threat to children's safety before sending them back to classrooms

Philippines readies pilot plan for school reopenings

A Filipino teacher conducts an online class using his mobile phone at his home in Quezon City in Manila in February. He runs the class over Facebook Messenger but less than half of his 43 students have access to a device. (Photo: AFP)

The Philippine government says it has chosen 30 schools to pilot a scheme to restart face-to-face classes that were suspended across the country soon after the Covid-19 outbreak began early last year.

According to UNICEF, the Philippines is one of 17 countries where schools have remained shut throughout the pandemic.

The prolonged shutdown has sparked fears of an education crisis in the Philippines, where most children lack the equipment needed to conduct online learning. These fears have prompted the move to try and get children back in school as soon as is safely possible.

The Department of Education said the 30 government-run schools will begin conducting face-to-face classes in November in areas of the country where Covid-19 cases are considered to have been brought under control.

There were 59 schools originally considered for the scheme but only 30 were chosen, the department said on Oct. 18.

Those rejected did not pass health protocols and requirements laid down by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

If the pilot proves to be safe and effective, then we will gradually increase openings, but what’s important is we are monitoring our risk assessment

“We will begin opening classes but these classes are called pilot classes based on the preparedness of schools. The pilot scheme will run for two months and will be closely monitored,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said.

She said the number of schools conducting face-to-face classes would increase in areas where the Covid situation improves and safety measures are implemented.

“If the pilot proves to be safe and effective, then we will gradually increase openings, but what’s important is we are monitoring our risk assessment. We will stop it if there are changes in the risk assessment,” Briones said.

She said only fully vaccinated teachers wearing masks and face shields will be allowed inside classrooms. Transparent plastic dividers will separate teachers from their students.

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“We need to maintain social or physical distancing inside the classroom. Even eating together is not allowed,” said Briones.

Several Catholic groups, however, urged caution, saying it would be better to wait a short time longer in order to vaccinate children against the coronavirus.

The Knights of the Altar of Malate Catholic Church in Manila and Knights of Columbus of San Fernando Diocese in Pampanga province said children should be inoculated first before allowing them to enter crowded places like a classroom.

“Only the teachers are fully vaccinated … How about the children? The government has just started vaccinating children this month and we will be exposing them to the virus in November?” the Knights of the Altar said in a Facebook post.

The groups said that they were all for face-to-face learning but protecting the health of children must be the priority.

“We acknowledge the disadvantages of having online classes. They are no match for personal classes. But at this time we need to be prudent. We need to make sure everyone, both teachers and students, is fully vaccinated, otherwise we could be doing more harm than good,” Darius Ortega of the Knights of Columbus told UCA News.

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