UNICEF welcomes the government’s decision to resume limited face-to-face learning in low risk areas, which will require a risk-informed approach to ensure the reopening of schools that considers safe operations, focuses on learning that includes the most marginalized, and guarantees the wellbeing and protection of children and their families.
While studies continue to emerge, a review of the current evidence shows that while in-person schooling does not appear to be the main driver of infection spikes, there are still risks. These risks can be minimized with proper infection prevention and control measures. Children in school do not appear to be exposed to higher risks of infection compared to when not in school when mitigation measures are in place, and school staff also do not appear to be at a higher relative risk compared to the general population.
According to UNICEF, the resumption of face-to-face learning requires a number of policy measures and clear guidance at the national level, some of which the government has already outlined. This includes implementation of a communication plan with schools and community members, continuous testing, use of masks, hygiene promotion and access to functioning water, sanitation and handwashing facilities, social distancing, transportation to and from school, disinfection and ventilation of classrooms, safe food preparation, proper waste disposal and prevention of stigma and discrimination, among others. The Framework for Reopening of Schools and Guidance for Safe and Healthy Journeys to Schools provide helpful checklists for adequate preparation.
More than 22 million Filipino children are able to enroll and avail of education services through different distance learning modalities. Distance learning must be understood as complementary to, and not a replacement for, face-to-face learning. This is especially true for learners who have no access to the internet or technology and whose parents and caregivers are unable to provide active home-based support. The longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return, which also places them at heightened risks for physical, emotional and sexual violence, exploitation and abuse.
In recognition of the crucial role of educators, UNICEF also calls for teachers to be prioritized as recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available in the country and once frontline health personnel as well as high-risk populations are vaccinated. Affording teachers protection from community transmission of COVID-19 is a critical step to provide education for all, especially the most vulnerable children.
Our task is clear but challenging. We must work together to improve education outcomes while ensuring equitable access and strengthening the protection, health, and safety of children.
UNICEF is ready to support the implementation of in-person schooling while responding to the pandemic by providing technical assistance, essential supplies, learning resources for teachers, children, and parents, and developing communication strategies and materials to reach the most vulnerable population. Together, we can overcome these trying times and safeguard the rights of children and their families for a better future beyond COVID-19.
Anthony Chris Quijano
Senior Media Relations Manager
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