Senator backs optional face masks in schools

A SENATOR on Wednesday backed the Department of Education’s decision to make the face masks optional in schools, saying this would hasten the return to normalcy after more than two years of distance learning amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Schools, however, should ensure proper ventilation, install adequate handwashing facilities and promote vaccination against the coronavirus, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, who heads the Senate education committee, said in a statement.

The Philippines on Oct. 28 did away with the mask mandate indoors and outdoors, except in healthcare facilities, medical transport vehicles and public transportation.   

It also mandated the continuous enforcement of minimum public health standards to prevent and minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

“After more than two years of implementing distance learning, our students are finally able to return to full face-to-face classes,” Mr. Gatchalian said. “This would not be possible if it were not for our teachers, school heads, superintendents and also the cooperation of the parents.”

He cited the importance of achieving learning recovery after more than two years of online classes during the pandemic.

The Philippines ranked among the highest in the Asian region in learning poverty, with nine of 10 Filipino children “unable to read and understand a simple passage by age 10,” according to the World Bank’s State of Global Learning Poverty report.

“Without urgent action to reduce learning poverty, we face a learning and human capital catastrophe,” it said. “If children do not acquire the basics of literacy — together with numeracy and other foundational skills — the future of hundreds of millions of children around the world, and their societies, are at grave risk.”

Mr. Gatchalian reiterated his push for Senate Bill 150 or the proposed Academic Recovery and Accessible Learning Act, which will start a national learning intervention program that will include systematized tutorial sessions and remediation plans.

The program will allow students to master essential competencies and make up for learning loss, he said. The program prioritizes reading to develop critical and analytical thinking skills.

The program also seeks to boost competencies of kindergarten students by focusing on reading and Math skills. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan