Opinion

Only Two Countries in the World Have Yet to Resume Face-to-Face Classes

And it’s probably best not to join the bandwagon. 
IMAGE BELL KA PANG
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The Philippines is the only country in Asia, and one of two countries in the world, that has yet to resume physical classes in school. The other country is Venezuela. 

In September, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bangladesh started allowing some of their schools to hold physical classes, leaving only the Philippines and Venezuela as the last two holdouts, according to a report by the Philippine Star

Although Southeast Asian countries tallied the highest daily cases of the delta variant in the region, most of the countries there have decided to reopen schools. 

Southeast Asia's COVID Cases as of September 8, 2021

Photo by Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Indonesia, which leads Southeast Asia’s COVID cases, declared in January that 14 of its 34 provinces were ready for school reopening in July. Physical distancing in the classroom is one of the main conditions for reopening.

Malaysia, which recorded almost 20,000 cases on September 8, reopened its schools on September 1. Over 52 percent of Malaysia’s population of 31 million have been fully vaccinated. 

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Thailand resumed classes much earlier—in August 2020. This has contributed to public outrage and protests decrying the government’s management of the pandemic. Thailand has the fourth-highest number of COVID cases in Southeast Asia. It recorded 14,000 new cases on September 8. 

The Philippines should not join the bandwagon.

UNICEF-Philippines has been encouraging the government to reopen schools, citing “best practices” of other countries that have resumed physical classes. 

“We have to do this in the best way possible," said Isy Faingold, who heads education work in UNICEF-Philippines in a forum. “We have to do this gradually, on a voluntary basis, and learning from the experience of other countries but adapting to the experience of the Philippines.”

According to UNICEF-Philippines, closing schools at the beginning of the pandemic was the right thing to do, but this has negative impacts on learning, that’s why a voluntary and gradual reopening of schools should be considered. 

Bull. 

No one in their right mind should consider reopening schools in the middle of the worst waves of the deadliest variant to emerge in this pandemic. 

Faingold suggested that schools hold outdoor classes, create “classroom bubbles,” and then isolate these bubbles when a student is infected. He also cited how some schools abroad recruited temporary teachers for smaller classes. 

But that’s hardly the point: What about commuting students who have to ride cramped jeepneys to school, or those who have to eat outside campus? Schools may be able to guarantee safety protocols within their campuses, but what assurance do we have that children will be protected once they leave school premises?

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Since August and as of this writing, the Philippines has been recording record-breaking daily cases of COVID-19. Just three days ago on September 6, the country recorded 22,347 cases—the highest single-day tally of new COVID-19 infections. 

The previous single-day record-high was barely a week earlier when the government recorded 22,179 on August 30. 

We are still in the middle of the worst wave of the pandemic, and we are not any better than we were in 2020. Just because most countries are reopening schools does not mean it is a sound decision. The Philippines should not join the bandwagon. 

No matter how small the risks may be—and they’re not—lives should never be gambled for the sake of anything, not even for face-to-face learning.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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