MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision that schools in the country will not reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic until a vaccine is available has been well received by the majority of Filipinos, who recognize the need to protect students’ health. However, there are concerns that their education will suffer, as many in the country do not have the necessary technology to grant access to online learning.
Duterte said on Monday that he would “not allow the opening of classes where students will be near each other.”
“Unless I am sure that they (the students) are safe, it’s useless to be talking about the opening of classes,” Duterte said. “For me, there should be a vaccine first. Once there’s a vaccine, it’s OK.”
High school student August Garicia supports the president’s decision to suspend classes, saying that the priority must be “the health of the students rather than their education.”
“Other countries are also suspending classes, why won’t we implement that as well? Because if classes are continued, we will be risking the health of the students,” he said. However, he added that “not everyone has access to” online education.
Gilbeys Garing, an industrial engineering student, agreed that safeguarding students is important, but added that the government should ensure that they can continue their education online if schools remain closed.
“I agree that safety should (be) the priority,” he said. “However, suspending a school year is not ideal. The government should provide the necessary, such as reliable (internet) connections and gadgets.”
Angeline Patricia Fae, a fellow engineering student, stressed that there are alternatives to the traditional methods of teaching.
“Yes, we have grown accustomed to face-to-face learning, but in this age, technology is on our side,” she said. “We can learn through online modules and activities. This can ensure the safety of the students and the teachers while still educating future professionals that can help in research.”
Parents, naturally, fully support any decision that places their children’s safety first. Both Shirley Reyes, whose two children are both in elementary school, and Priam Fernandez, whose daughter is in college, said that resuming classes without a cure or vaccine for COVID-19 could put the students at risk.
For most schools in the Philippines, the academic year usually begins in June. But Education Secretary Leonor Briones said on May 5 that schools would reopen this year on August 24, either through physical or virtual classes.
The National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) said the focus should be on how to address the pandemic itself, which must come before discussions for the reopening of schools.
“This dilemma in the educational system underscores the need for long-overdue medical solutions that will guarantee the safe resumption of on-campus classes,” Raoul Manuel, NUSP president, said in a statement. He added that the government had failed to lead the fight against COVID-19, forcing those in the education sector to make “difficult choices.”