MANILA – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the Philippines said Thursday it supports the government’s plans to hold dry runs of in-person classes in areas with low risk of COVID-19 infection.
In a statement, UNICEF said it acknowledged that there are risks in reopening schools, but these could be minimized through “proper infection prevention and control measures.”
“Resumption of face-to-face learning requires a number of policy measures and clear guidance at the national level, some of which the [Philippine] government has already outlined,” UNICEF said.
UNICEF noted that in-person classes would complement other distance learning modalities, especially for students without access to the internet and technology and learners whose parents are unable to teach them at home.
The organization also warned that the longer children stay 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.”
The UN agency said it would support the implementation of in-person classes by providing technical assistance, essential supplies, and learning resources for teachers, children, and parents, among others.
UNICEF also urged the Philippine government to prioritize teachers as recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Affording teachers protection from community transmission of COVID-19 is a critical step to provide education for all, especially the most vulnerable children,” it said.
The UNICEF earlier compiled studies that concluded that “children in school do not appear to be exposed to higher risks” of COVID-19 infection.
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte allowed the DepEd to hold a pilot test of limited in-person classes in January.
The DepEd has said it would coordinate with other government agencies, local officials, and parents to ensure the safety of students participating in the dry run.
Schools will also reduce their class sizes and implement staggered schedules to observe minimum health standards during the dry run.