COMMENT: Philippines' school reopening feels like it's 2020 all over again

·Contributor
·6 min read
This week, the Philippines has finally reopened 100 public schools in low-risk areas to join the Department of Education’s pilot run of limited face-to-face classes, after nearly two years of lockdown. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)
This week, the Philippines has finally reopened 100 public schools in low-risk areas to join the Department of Education’s pilot run of limited face-to-face classes, after nearly two years of lockdown. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)

During an exam in school, when you see that all of your classmates have passed their papers already and you are the one left with the test paper still on your desk, you would be pressured to just pass your paper anyway, right? You would pass it even though you are not confident with your answers and still have some items left blank.

But here is the thing: you know in yourself that you were given the exact amount of time that was given to your classmates to review and prepare for the exam and yet, somehow, you still came unprepared. Maybe your classmates had some better resources that you did not have, or maybe your classmates were just better at strategizing than you are. The truth of the matter remains: you finished last, and you know it is embarrassing.

This is what is happening to the Philippines.

The Philippines is reopening schools just for the sake of reopening. They seemed to be left with no choice, especially when Venezuela already reopened their schools to students last October 25, leaving the Philippines the only country in the world with schools still shut.

But the Philippines’ school reopening looks a lot like what 2020 looked like; the temperature scanners and contact-tracing sheets at the door and the plastic barriers at the armchairs are, if anything, visual reminders of the Philippines’ horrible and embarrassing past – of all the inconveniences that Filipinos started with back when we could have been in a position to control, if not totally mitigate, the coronavirus.

This week, the Philippines has finally reopened 100 public schools in low-risk areas to join the Department of Education’s pilot run of limited face-to-face classes, after nearly two years of lockdown. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)
The Philippines is now gradually reopening schools. This came after Venezuela reopened their schools to students last October 25, leaving the Philippines the only country in the world with schools still shut. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)

This week, the Philippines has finally reopened 100 public schools in low-risk areas to join the Department of Education’s pilot run of limited face-to-face classes, after nearly two years of lockdown. I said “finally” because, really, it is a relief, especially knowing that the Philippines is the last country in the world to reopen its schools to students.

And, really, the students needed to go back to school already because they are missing out on a lot of opportunities that every student should be able to grab five, 10, 15 years later. Being in elementary school for primary- to middle-school students is a crucial stage for them, as it is in this phase of their lives where they learn several skills that they will need in high school and college and, eventually, for employment.

Several studies have also shown already that the long-term economic effects of being out of school for a long time will be seen years from now when the workforce – which by then will be comprised of today’s students – will lack several learnings and skills that they should have learned being in school.

So, only in this regard, I am with the Department of Education in reopening the school gates to students already. There is no better time than now (well, it could have been earlier only if we had a better pandemic response).

But many times, especially every time I see my young nephews and nieces, I wonder how prepared are they for this.

This week, the Philippines has finally reopened 100 public schools in low-risk areas to join the Department of Education’s pilot run of limited face-to-face classes, after nearly two years of lockdown. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)
Several studies have shown already that the long-term economic effects of being out of school for a long time will be seen years from now when the workforce — which by then will be comprised of today’s students — will lack several learnings and skills that they should have learned being in school. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)

For one, schoolchildren belong in the age group that remains unvaccinated. Unlike with many developed countries where children are fully vaccinated already (notably, they reopened their schools only after a successful vaccination program for their younger population), the Philippines does not yet allow inoculation for younger kids, although recently, they allowed the vaccination of older kids aged 12 to 17 already.

Almost two years in lockdown and still we are in limbo. Younger kids aged 12 and below are not yet allowed to be vaccinated and yet they are being sent back to schools, while older kids aged 12 to 17 are being inoculated already even though most of the high schools remain closed as of this time (the schools that are part of the pilot run of school reopening are mostly elementary schools). What, really, are we trying to achieve?

As we should know by now already, being unvaccinated increases a person’s risk of getting COVID-19, and not to mention that with the Delta variant, there was a rise in cases of children getting COVID-19.

Sending unvaccinated kids out, basically, exposes them to the risks of COVID-19.

This is what happened in our neighboring country Indonesia. When they reopened their schools last September, at least 15,000 students and 7,000 teachers at around 1,500 schools have been infected by the coronavirus. Like in the Philippines, Indonesia was not yet vaccinating younger kids at the time of school reopening.

This week, the Philippines has finally reopened 100 public schools in low-risk areas to join the Department of Education’s pilot run of limited face-to-face classes, after nearly two years of lockdown. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)
This week, the Philippines has finally reopened 100 public schools in low-risk areas to join the Department of Education’s pilot run of limited face-to-face classes, after nearly two years of lockdown. (Photo: DepEd Philippines)

The government, at this point, is following the wrong North Star in their school reopening response. They reopened the schools without addressing the very root cause of why we shut down the schools in the first place – the children, especially with their uncontrollable habits of touching many things, can be susceptible to the coronavirus or can be potential carriers of it.

The temperature scanners, contact-tracing sheets, and plastic barriers can only do so little. These are band-aid solutions. Having these in the classrooms cannot really guarantee that the students will be spared from the coronavirus. Surely, being in lockdown for nearly two years, the adults know this by now already, right? Temperature scanners, contact-tracing sheets, and plastic barriers have always been everywhere we look since lockdowns began and yet we still became to be the worst place to be in during this pandemic.

Now that we seem to be really keen on sending out the kids, we should also do something to genuinely protect them from such a deadly virus. If we truly care for the kids who are being sent back to schools, the government should already allow inoculation for them to increase confidence in this school reopening program. It should be "No Vaccination, No Entry."

Because, essentially, sending the students back to school without true and long-term protection is like sending them to a test without having reviewed nor prepared: despite their attendance, they still get a failing mark.

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines. He covers cultures, media, and gender. The views expressed are his own.

Watch more videos on Yahoo:

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting