AT least 100 public schools and a small number of private colleges in the country slowly went back to classroom teaching or face to face (F2F) classes last Monday, November 15 after one school year of distance learning. This would test if it is now safe to allow schoolchildren to go back to school even with an enduring COVID-19 pandemic.
For parents and teachers, they are aware that the school is where schoolchildren interact with their contemporaries. Preventing such interaction could lead to loss of interest for school, loss of self-confidence and ambition.
I imagine a classroom scenario of pupils wearing facemasks tucked in their respective cubicles physically distanced and enclosed by plastic. More than two meters away, a teacher explains the lessons for the three to four hour F2F class to schoolchildren who will still have to get used to an unfamiliar back-to-school situation.
For schools in municipal centers and urban areas that were included in the experiment, opening and closing of classes would have to be scheduled outside rush hours to avoid traffic and crowding in public transport. School attendance too would have to be reduced and school hours lessened.
Recess, lunchtime and other school breaks would have to be scheduled differently for individual classes to maintain physical distancing and avoid crowding in school canteens, toilets, offices and other rooms.
For resourceful teachers and school administrators, open gyms and basketball courts or other available open spaces could be used alternately as classrooms, aside from keeping room windows open for good ventilation.
The latter situation is where schools in remote mountains of the Cordillera find F2F classes advantageous. There is enough ventilation in the mountains, lots of open spaces and shade between the Pines that can naturally be converted into “classrooms”.
There are 1,843 public schools in the whole Cordillera. Unfortunately, out of 50 schools that were recommended for inclusion in the F2F classes, only one school in Tabuk was endorsed by the DepEd central office. The reason: Cordillera remains to be under high-risk for Covid-19 infection.
Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, schools in the Cordillera were classified as moderate, high, and critical, according to the DepEd. In contrast, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) allowed at least 12 higher educational institutions in the Cordillera to conduct F2F classes for the academic year 2021-2022.
I thought the basis for inclusion in F2F classes was that schools should be in the minimal risk area based on the criteria set by the DOH. I do not see the reason why 12 colleges and universities in the city and populated centers were allowed F2F classes while well ventilated schools in the open mountains were not.
For a school to be included in the list for F2F classes, it should be located in a minimal-risk area based on the criteria set by the DOH. But areas in the Cordillera are on different risk levels. No doubt, schools in Baguio are within a high-risk area as compared to an unpopulated public school somewhere in Pachakan below Besao or the school in Huyoc, Banawe.
Aside from school teachers being vaccinated, aged 65 y/o and below and have no diagnosed comorbidities; I am sure the schools in the far mountains passed whatever safety assessment tool was used by DepEd and DOH if their personnel reached the schools that I visited in the past.
I am referring to schools in Naswak above Ekip, Bokod near the boundary of Viscaya; Tawangan and Palansa elementary schools below the Mount Pulag summit; Domolpos E/S beside Mount Ugo, and the school in Lusod, Tinongdan. During an outreach journalism lecture, I slept in a classroom in Dalupirip and at the Lawiguen E/S, both in Itogon.
I also found myself in a very quiet school in Am-am where the only sound that breaks the chilly atmosphere is the voice of the teacher that can be heard through a round hole, once covered by a doorknob. There were very few schoolchildren, maybe 10 to 14 in each class.
I remember, the school had grades one to four with each grade occupying a classroom. The classrooms had no wall dividers between them because the teacher had to walk from one class to the next. I found out there was only one teacher for the four classes of different grades. The school is at the Bauko-Mankayan mountain boundary.
Then in Buguias, I hiked for three hours to reach the elementary school at Panayawan, Loo to join colleagues in a “regional autonomy” meeting. In the same year, I saw the isolated school in Ahin, Tinoc.
North of Benguet, there are schools in zero or low-risk areas such as Tubo E/S in Abra near the boundary of Besao; the school in Tamboan in Besao, and moving further on the same foot trail is a school in Dandanak.
There are far-flung schools around scenic Sagada, and remote schools in Lias and Kadaclan in Barlig. Then I visited the late Dr. Philip Flores who volunteered as school head of Marag E/S at Marag Valley, an NPA area in Apayao. I am quite fortunate to have visited these schools in the past.
According to UNICEF, we are the last country in the world to experiment on F2F schooling. It is good we allowed our schools to join pilot-testing. But this should be allowed more in areas where school children still have no access to internet gadgets and cannot afford online connections.
By the way, the World Bank assessed that school closures lasting for five to six months is equivalent to losing more than half a year of schooling. This is true especially in areas where internet connectivity is unavailable.
Ironically, these are the areas where F2F classes could be implemented because Covid-19 infection rates remain low. Life is slow in these areas, there are open spaces so that ventilation and physical distancing are not problems. If so, then all these should be enough reasons for DepEd, DOH and the agencies concerned to pilot-test F2F classes. These could be done amongst the Pines.
News report: In a F2F class reopening in Alaminos City, cops were requested by school officials to be deployed to ensure observance of minimum public health standards. So they came but also carried with them their firearms before schoolchildren. Schools should always be free from persons with firearms. No common sense. Narrow-minded.