As I See It- Are schools really opening this fall?

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By Elpidio R. Estioko

Three weeks ago, when the idea of reopening the schools this fall was broached for the first time by US President Donald Trump, there were lots of resistance! Today, the resistance is still there and even became more pronounced as 46 states reported surges of the pandemic in their states. Despite these, the president still maintain schools should be reopened and even went to the extent of threatening  not to release the budgets of schools who will not follow the mandate although lately, he reversed his position by saying states with surges of corona virus should delay reopening.

School administrators, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders have various opinions/reactions as regards to reopening the schools.

For example, the Chancellor of the Royal Institution of Singapore, former president of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) and a frequent visitor in the US Dr. Samuel Salvador said: “Education of our children must continue without any condition. California has a very powerful ICT connectivity and the school systems (public and private) have all the wealth of instructional materials. All these materials can be re-packaged into educational materials and can be transmitted thru online or via the internet. Teachers and students know how to use these technology tools, they are more advance than their counterparts in the Philippines. They can use eBooks, emodules and all available instructional materials in the social media and teachers will just have to reinvent their delivery systems. The teachers shall conduct an hour of synchronous session in the morning and for the rest of the day shall be asynchronous.  In other words, I’m uncomfortable sending our children or students to schools and have face-to-face mode of teaching and learning processes.”

For his part, Ret. PUP Professor and now a resident of Carlton Way, Los Angeles, CA is not in favor of reopening the schools this fall. “I am not in favor of reopening schools this fall. We have to first and foremost ensure the safety of the students, teachers and staff. In-person schooling without clear safety guidelines puts students, teachers, and staff at risk.”

He continued his position by saying: “The US must have a standard set of national policies or guidelines that are formulated by stakeholders like scientists, teachers, lawyers, law enforcement officers, education experts, business leaders and health personnel like nurses and doctors. The guidelines could be implemented according to the particular needs and conditions of different states. A lot of attention and preparation has to be devoted to ensuring safety of students in the bus, canteen, playgrounds, classroom arrangement, use of sport equipment and even music instruments.”

Roldan is saying that the reopening of the schools has to be postponed until such time that ideal conditions are met.

“Meanwhile distance learning… could take the place of in-person learning. However, pilot studies are needed before they are implemented and teachers, parents and education experts must be on top of the situation for online learning to be effective. The government can partner with top 100 corporations as listed in Fortune magazine that can provide the funds to give students computers and free access to the internet. There should be close monitoring of the progress of students and a periodic evaluation to establish the efficiency and effectiveness of online learning…”

As a closing statement of the interview, Roldan said:  “Reopening schools should not be a politician’s decision but that of scientitsts, education experts and other stakeholders. The life and safety of the students and teachers must give the highest priority not the economy or political ambitions. Education, it is said is life… but without life, of what use is education.”

Businessman, community leader, a former graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) now a resident of Southern California,  the founding  president of The Global Urdanetanians  (TGU),  and the incoming president of the Global Kalinga eRotary Club in Los Angeles Lino F. Caringal, Jr. is not also in favor of reopening the schools this fall. “There is still a rising incidence of the pandemic. Its next move is the Midwest from the Southwest. Children are not immune from it. There are no specific education plan to protect the children, teachers and workers of each school.  The Secretary of Education just left to the school to plan for it… Schools must adapt to the situation, use technology, online classes, until the danger is controlled or working and quality tested vaccine is available or all.

The stimulus bill or the next round of, if approved, should include massive upgrade of wifi availability in major cities of learning centers for students to use at home. City or town governments should include in their current budget provision for wifi enhancement in their communities… or tap into their reserves to do it if any. A few colleges in LA have adopted this. A combo solution – 75% online and 25% face to face classroom lectures. High schools and elementary may do it too. But there should be a consistent and disciplined observance of strict guidelines those coming from CDC.”

Ret. PUP Professor Filemon Viduya is not in favor of the opening of classes this August, “not during this heightened onslaught of the corona virus disease. Today. the number of virus infections in the country increased… I am afraid we are putting into great risk our students. As to the online classes, students maybe exposed to lesser danger because they don’t need to go out from their homes. But the problem is the fact that students from poor families may not afford to acquire necessary gadgets for their studies such as laptops or computers plus the accessibility of the internet.”

As to TGU president Yvonne San Juan-Sera, a resident of So. California, she said: “The pandemic that we are in globally is a challenge for everyone’s best efforts. We cannot forego or disregard both health and education. In as much as I would prioritize health, we also have to consider education or safe and continuous healthy minds of our future leaders.

Yes, I am in favor of reopening classes this fall. In person… but only for middle schools,  high schools and college or higher. If we reopen, we have to ensure that facilities are well cleaned and sanitized in order to accommodate students. Social distancing is a must. Children tend to have mild or no symptoms, so the concern is not for the child but for the potential spread of the virus to other more vulnerable populations. We don’t want the child to bring home the virus and spread it to aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. I would prefer in-person with flex schedules observing social distancing.

The curriculum should be focused on essential or major subjects that needs focus… teachers or professors’ assistance or explanation… and ensure that each one participates in group discussions or recitations. This way the students are actively cultivating and culminating their minds. Also face shield or flex shield maybe be considered.  Let’s do a morning and afternoon sessions, so as to observe social distancing. To be able to accommodate everyone whatever subject that are not taken during the semesters, can be taken summer nest year. We need to consistently stimulate the brains of our youth, without scarifying their health.”

Are we really opening schools this fall?

(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedback, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com)

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