DepEd asked: Can it keep senior high students safe from COVID-19 if schools open?
MANILA, Philippines — A youth group has questioned the Department of Education (DepEd) whether or not they are ready to ensure the safety of students from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the agency looks to resume face-to-face classes for senior high school departments.
The Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (Spark), a staunch critic of the country’s education officials, have insisted that students are not lab rats that DepEd can conduct trial-and-error experiments on.
Spark underscored that a lot of senior high schools do not have adequate facilities necessary for preventing coronavirus transmissions, like handwashing areas and hygienic comfort rooms, clinic rooms, and classrooms themselves.
“While the DepEd underscores that Senior High School should be a priority, they seem to ignore other problems that would affect the safety of the students from COVID-19, as well as their families and their own home environments,” Spark spokesperson Justin Dizon said.
“How can the DepEd ensure that students will be protected against COVID-19 despite the fact that most schools don’t even have proper handwashing facilities and water supply? How can the DepEd ensure that students will be safe from COVID-19 if most public schools lack proper clinic facilities and nurses?” he asked.
If DepEd cannot answer these issues — along with other questions on steps to take if a student contracts the disease, like contact tracing and mass testing — then the group believes the department can forget about face-to-face classes.
“If even one of these measures cannot be implemented, we can forget about face-to-face classes. Senior High School students are not mere ‘lab rats’ to have their lives thrown into experiments with a high chance of failure. We deserve better,” Dizon explained.
On Thursday, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones implied that students and parents are already raring to go back to face-to-face classes, adding that they conducted a survey where more than 50 percent of students, parents, and teachers wanted to go back to learning in schools.
Briones also relayed that the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has told her that the Philippines remains to be the only country in Southeast Asia that has yet to open classes — which the international agency believes has an adverse effect on the country’s economy.
“Unicef told me when we met last week: We are the only one in Southeast Asia that has not returned to face-to-face [classes],” Briones said, reiterating the remark she made in December.
For 2020, the country experienced the worst slump in its records since the end of the Second World War: the gross domestic product shrunk by 9.5 percent.
However, there are concerns about opening the economy and schools: according to a study from Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank, the Philippines ranked 79th out of 98 countries in terms of how the government handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among its Asean neighbors, the Philippines only managed to be better than Indonesia, which was ranked 85th. It gets worse for the Philippines from there: the country was ranked below Myanmar which is currently experiencing civil unrest (24th), Malaysia (16th), Singapore (13th), Thailand (4th) and Vietnam (2nd).
A recent survey among Asean countries also gives a grim outlook: the Philippines was dead last among all member-states in the study conducted by the Asean Studies Centre of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
The rankings were based on people’s reaction towards the government’s action amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from these, the Philippines has yet to start its COVID-19 vaccinations, unlike some Asean countries like Indonesia and Singapore.
This is not the first time Spark went against calls for face-to-face classes; last February 12, the group said that vaccines must be made available to college students first before allowing them to return to physical classes.
This was after reports came out that some medical schools would already resume classes for their graduating students.
“SPARK, therefore, calls for better infrastructure and facilities in schools by allocating more budget in the retrofitting of schools and their surrounding environment to create a truly safe learning environment,” Dizon said.
“In addition, we call for an efficient implementation of mass testing and contact tracing among Senior High School students, teachers, and other employees, as well as their prioritization for vaccination efforts. Above all, we demand that these efforts be fully subsidized by the government. Students should not have to pay for their own safety,” he added.
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