By November 15, the Department of Education (DepEd) is set to begin the pilot run for the resumption of face-to-face classes in 100 schools located in areas deemed at low-risk of community transmission of COVID-19. To recap, schools around the country has been shuttered since March 16, 2020 as the pandemic began to unfold.

As of this time, the Philippines has earned the dubious reputation of being the only country in the world that is yet to restart in-person classes since Venezuela already reopened its schools last October 23.

While it can be argued that face-to-face classes is really a more effective way of teaching as opposed to having online classes, resuming it is not something that can be done haphazardly. Though it is good to note that the average number of new COVID-19 cases as well as active cases is now down to levels we have not seen since March, we cannot really be complacent. For example, Europe is again dealing with another COVID-19 surge.

Amidst the persistent calls for “Ligtas na Balik Eskwela” and the government’s plan to restart face-to-face classes in the coming months, it is important to be realistic about what needs to be done. First on the list is to make sure that the vaccination drive is ramped up even further across the country.

According to analysts like ABS-CBN’s Edson Guido, the Philippines’ vaccine supply is already enough for the government to be able to do at least one million vaccinations everyday for the next thirty days. That way, 70% of the country’s population will get vaccinated – enabling us to reach “herd immunity.” Of course, we should not stop there. The government should eventually strive to vaccinate every Filipino who is eligible to get the vaccine. This week, the Department of Health already began the vaccination drive for Filipinos aged 12 to 17, and the inoculations for 5 to 11-year-olds will soon follow.

deped pilot face-to-face classes
The Department of Education is set to begin the pilot run of face-to-face classes in 120 schools (Credits: DepEd Facebook page)

However, the safety of students in the campuses doesn’t begin and end with vaccinations alone. More needs to be done. For example, Philippine schools have long been known to be notoriously overpopulated. It is not unusual for 60 to 80 students to be cramped in a single classroom. Obviously, it is impossible to implement social distancing in that situation.

DepEd therefore needs to reduce the class size and that can only be done effectively by hiring more teachers and building more school rooms. It is now important to look at other aspects as well, and these views are informed by the writer’s experience as a former public school student and now as a teacher:

1) How do you tell students who live in crowded communities to walk one meter apart from one another on their way to school?
2) How do you tell students to be one meter apart when entering the school building if there are 2,000 of them? Or maybe 5,000?
3) How long will it take before the temperature of each of those can be read? How can social distancing be enforced? Who will be doing the thermal scanning?
4) Since wearing face masks is an absolute necessity, can the department provide a regular supply of it for both teachers and students? What will be done to students who enter the school without masks?
5) Can DepEd hire at least one clinic nurse per school?
6) What about the implementation of social distancing when students flock to the canteen?
7) Can they assure water supply in all school CRs and laboratories?

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