It’s safe to be in school

Schoolchildren in Valenzuela City return to in-person learning

May Anne Ramos
Tagalag Elementary School is one of the schools that first conducted in-person classes in Valenzuela City
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Gerard Cayco
23 June 2022

After almost two years of studying at home, Cian Nathaniel Gansit was able to go to school and learn with his teacher and classmates. Cian, a grade 2 pupil, is one of the students participating in the in-person classes in Tagalag Elementary School in Valenzuela City, Philippines. His mother, Charmaine, noticed that Cian’s study habits have improved since he attended in-person classes.

“I don’t have to tell him to do his homework anymore, and I noticed that he can finish his tasks for face-to-face classes on his own,” Charmaine said, adding that Cian had difficulties concentrating on purely online classes.

For the 7-year-old Cian, he can understand his teacher’s lecture better now that he goes to school. “I am also happy because I get to see my classmates, not just on-screen.”

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person learning in the Philippines resulting in 27 million Filipino students studying at home through various alternative learning modalities such as modular, online, and radio- and TV-based. This set-up, however, came with challenges since many students do not have gadgets and fast internet connection or access for online learning. In a UNICEF survey, majority (84%) of Filipino adults believed that children are learning less in the blended learning.

About 15,000 students from 287 public and private schools in minimal-risk areas across the country participated in the pilot implementation, from November to December 2021, of the Department of Education’s limited in-person learning. It was not an easy task to make schools COVID-19-ready but school personnel, the community, and local governments worked together to prioritize the safety of every learner. Schools that reopened passed the School Safety Assessment and obtained the concurrence of their respective LGUs and support of students’ parents.

“The preparation was challenging but the shared responsibility framework of DepEd and Department of Health helped us secure the commitment of barangay, parents, teachers, and the community to prevent COVID-19 infection in our school,” shared Levy Acuna, principal of Tagalag Elementary School, which was part of the pilot in-person learning initiative.

Charmaine Gansit with her son Cian Nathaniel Gansit
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Gerard Cayco
Charmaine Gansit with her son Cian Nathaniel Gansit.

“I am also happy because I get to see my classmates, not just on-screen.”

- Cian Nathaniel Gansit, Grade 3 pupil in Tagalag Elementary School

The resumption of in-person learning was a pleasant change to the routine of teachers and their students.

Jennifer Garido allowed her daughter, Margaret, to attend the voluntary in-person classes because she noticed that her seven-year-old lost interest in studying online. Both hope that in-person classes will be held daily soon. “Every time she goes home, my daughter tells me that she understands her teacher’s lecture and explanation. We hope COVID-19 cases will continue to go down so more kids could come to school and learn better,” Jennifer said.

Novelyn Faner, a grade 2 teacher, was likewise happy to interact with her students again. “I’m happy we get to conduct classes here in school even with a limited number of students.”

Through the hybrid learning setup implemented in her school, Teacher Novelyn gets to teach her students in-person and online simultaneously. Her school developed a class program that caters to both learners of the limited in-person class arrangement and distance education.

“Every time she goes home, my daughter tells me that she understands her teacher’s lecture and explanation. We hope COVID-19 cases will continue to go down so more kids could come to school and learn better.”

- Jennifer Garido, mother of Margaret who participates in in-person classes in Valenzuela City

Keeping schools safe

UNICEF Philippines strongly advocates the resumption of in-person classes in all schools, noting that keeping children out of their classrooms has negative effects on their growth and development. The delay in learning recovery can hurt their chances of securing jobs in the future, which is also essential in the country’s economic recovery from the effects of COVID-19.  With UNICEF support, DepEd and DOH developed the guidelines on the safe resumption of in-person learning. UNICEF likewise provided technical assistance in developing COVID-19 heatmaps to identify schools in minimal-risk areas, conducting a risk analysis​, and the localization of the global World Health Organization Checklist to monitor the pilot implementation of in-person learning and prepare for COVID-19 resurgences.

Arnold Molina, principal of Disiplina Village Elementary School, also in Valenzuela City, found the DepEd’s guidelines on reopening schools very useful. “It helped us in planning and preparing the school for the pilot limited face-to-face classes. Manpower was a challenge on our part, but we are grateful to the barangay and city hall for supporting us in preparing our classrooms, hallways, and every corner of the school to make them safe for students and teachers,” he shared.

The guidelines on the safe implementation of the limited in-person classes directed schools to arrange the physical layout of classrooms to ensure physical distancing, put up signages on health and safety reminders and protocols, ensure that face masks and personal protective equipment, sanitizers, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, and thermometers are available to learners and teachers. School disinfection guidelines are also in place, and school clinics and health care personnel are prepared to attend to students or teachers who would show flu-like symptoms and other health emergencies.

To allay the fears of parents and students and provide them with important details on holding in-person classes, orientations and simulations were conducted.  

“The orientation and dry-run of in-person classes helped in relieving the fear of COVID-19 infection of parents and teachers in school. The adjustments we made, and the new set-up were explained to them. When parents saw the success of the pilot phase, almost all of them now want to send their kids to school,” said Mopper Magnolia de Guzman, a kindergarten teacher.

Lea Estuaria, who handles grade 1 classes, added that the simulation and daily mental health sessions with children helped them to follow health protocols. “We allot 15 minutes of our class to discuss the importance of health protocols in our school. I think these reminders are effective because kids rarely take off their masks or go to their classmates’ seats to play or talk. Whenever they forget about the protocols, I just talk to them, and they follow immediately.”

Schools nationwide were instructed to prepare for the expansion of limited in-person classes in February once their respective locality is placed under Alert Level 1 or 2 and meet other requirements. Some of the school administrators and personnel in Valenzuela City visited Disiplina Village Elementary School and Tagalag Elementary School to learn how the guidelines are implemented and learn good practices.

Shared responsibility and stakeholders’ engagement

The success of the pilot was attributed to the shared responsibility framework, which mobilized different stakeholders to safely conduct classes inside school premises. In Disiplina Village Elementary School, nanay (mother) volunteers help teachers in ensuring that health protocols are followed especially by students in lower grade levels.

Cristine Olvido, a mother of a grade one pupil, became a nanay volunteer to give back to her daughter’s school. “I want to help the school in keeping the students healthy. I am assigned to my child’s class, so it is also my way of checking on her. I help the teacher make sure that the students do their seatwork and assist them if they need anything and accompany them to the restroom to ensure physical distancing and that they wash their hands.”

Teachers appreciate this kind of volunteerism since they also attend to their students joining the online class. Nanay volunteers are fully vaccinated and regularly tested just like the school personnel that work inside the school.

Cristine Olvido, a nanay volunteer at Disiplina Village Elementary School, helps teachers in ensuring that students follow health protocols and class activities.
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Gerard Cayco
Cristine Olvido, a nanay volunteer at Disiplina Village Elementary School, helps teachers in ensuring that students follow health protocols and class activities.

Tagalag Elementary School, on the other hand, completed the requirements for resuming in-person classes partly through the help of its alumni and private individuals who donated signages, air purifiers, and paint for floor markers, among others.

“We saw how the community worked together so we could reopen the school gates and let the students in. We were overwhelmed by the support of parents, government officials, teachers, and concerned citizens who gave their support and resources for this initiative,” said Acuña.

Both Acuña and Molina as well as the teachers look forward to welcoming all students in their schools next school year. But as more schools conduct in-person classes, some parents still hesitate to allow their kids to participate in in-person classes. Rochelle Bautista, a mother of a kindergarten student in Dispilina Village Elementary School and a nanay volunteer, understands the fears of parents and guardians. However, she assures parents that the school is a safe space for children. She said, “It is safe here in school. I trust the teachers and school personnel that they can keep the students safe. For parents like me, let’s think about the future of our children. They learn much better in face-to-face classes.”

Rochelle’s daughter Aliexa wants to be a teacher someday, and she believes that the first step to fulfilling this dream is to attend classes in school regularly.

“It is safe here in school. I trust the teachers and school personnel that they can keep the students safe. For parents like me, let’s think about the future of our children. They learn much better in face-to-face classes.”

- Rochelle Bautista, a nanay volunteer at Disiplina Village Elementary School

Note:

As of 31 May 2022, more than 34,000 schools in the Philippines have been conducting in-person classes. DepEd targets to have 100% of schools offer in-person learning next school year starting in August. UNICEF continues to support the initiative by providing the Early Childhood Care and Development Council with technical assistance to safely reopen child development centers and helping more children in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to attend in-person classes. To date, 76 child development centers nationwide have reopened. The Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education of BARMM has reopened 143 schools and preparing for the expansion of in-person classes in the region. UNICEF has likewise supported schools with WASH facilities and hygiene kits, local governments to plan for the safe resumption of in-person classes in their areas, and initiatives for the recovery of learning loss among students.