Nalzaro: ‘Ilawog sa tirong’

·4 min read

“ILAWOG sa tirong.” I don’t know the exact English translation of “tirong.” Google describes it as “devil, evil and a monster.” In radio drama, “tirong” refers to a “dog-like creature.” My imagination of “tirong” during my younger days was that it looked like a big machine where children who commit wrongdoings will be fed into. That’s why the term “ilawog sa tirong” (fed to the big machine) existed.

The insistence of the Department of Education (DepEd) officials to resume limited face-to-face classes in basic education is just like “feeding the children” into the monster. Why? Because the very monster I am referring to is the Covid-19 pandemic, which is still very much in existence.

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones said President Rodrigo Duterte already signed the combined guidelines of the DepEd, the Department of Health, the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and experts on children’s education. Also consulted in drawing the guidelines are the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the Philippine Pediatric Society and other similar agencies concerning the children and the Philippine Private School Health Officers’ Association.

The face-to-face or in-person classes will be tried out in public schools in areas with low risk for Covid-19. The classes will be voluntary and the students must have the consent of their parents or guardians. Classes will be limited to 12 learners per classroom for kindergarten, 16 for Grades 1 and 3 and up to 20 for senior high school students. The conduct of the limited face-to-face classes will be different from the face-to-face-classes we are familiar with. The classes will not be daily and continuous but will be scheduled and strictly monitored.

In Cebu province, DepEd 7 has identified three possible areas where limited face-to-face classes will be implemented. One in a school in Bantayan Island, in Samboan and in Pilar in the Camotes Group of Islands. But are these areas really Covid-free? I doubt it. There are so many cases in Bantayan Island, especially in its adjacent Madridejos town. Samboan had just lifted its granular lockdown because of rising cases and Pilar has also been penetrated by the virus.

Will the teachers, who are assigned in Bantayan and Pilar islands, be riding pumpboats in going to these islands from the mainland? What if the transmission happens in public transportation? Miabot man gani ang Covid-19 didto sa Batanes nga toa na to sa tumoy sa Pilipinas. (Covid-19 has even reached Batanes, which is at the tip of the Philippines.)

Why gamble when Covid-19 cases are still on the rise? Both the students and teachers will ride public transportation in going to the schools and the danger of transmission is always there. What if they contract the virus and spread the disease in the campus? Are our DepEd officials willing to take the responsibility if a student gets infected with the virus? Are they willing to shoulder the hospitalization bills of that infected student?

We shouldn’t gamble. The main concern of the parents is the safety of their children in the school premises. And the safest way for our children not to be infected with the virus is to stay at home. Children are not yet vaccinated.

What’s the problem with the modular and online educational learning? If the students are getting left behind, what are the factors? This is the second year we are adopting this set-up and if there are loopholes, the DepEd should correct them. Yes, education is very important for our children. But education can wait. What’s more important is that the students are safe.

There are states in the US and other countries that attempted to resume to face-to-face classes but ultimately suspended them after observing the rise in Covid-19 cases among students. Reopening face-to-face classes must be carefully planned to ensure the safety of the students, teachers and school staff. Planning and execution of health protocols in this pandemic, such as how to enforce physical distancing in schools, must be supported by truthful data from various institutions.

Even a group of teachers is concerned about this move by the DepEd. They asked the government to reconsider its decision.

“We believe that it is not timely and very dangerous to hold face-to-face classes now that the Covid cases continue to rise across the country and our health care system is already overwhelmed,” the Teachers Dignity Coalition said. They’re right. Why is government in a hurry?

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