Children comprise a significant percentage of the Philippine population, specifically, they represent 38% of the 100,981,437 Filipinos. Addressing their needs during this pandemic is therefore vital for the country’s successful track to recovery.
The postponement of face-to-face classes and the shift to distance learning brought in additional hardships to the children, particularly to the 31.8% of the children population who live below the poverty line. Data from the Department of Education shows that as of November 2020, there are 25.04 million learners in school which is around 90% of its enrollment figure in 2019. This translates to around 1.3 million learners who did not enroll in 2020. In a focused group study conducted by the Positive Youth Development Network on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected Young People in 2020, 74.6% of the respondents said that classes should resume only when a vaccine is available or when the situation is under control. They fear being exposed to the virus when in school. Furthermore, in a study by Plan International “Through Her Lens: Impact of COVID-19 on Filipino Girls and Young Women (GYW)” aged 13 -24 from the 17 regions of the country revealed that 71% cited that their education is heavily affected by quarantine measures and that opening schools will address their concern. While returning to face-to-face classes can be helpful for learners, it is important to consider the safety of school personnel, learners, and their families.
We commend the efforts of the national government in procuring vaccines that will increase protection of the vulnerable population against the deadly COVID-19 virus and its variants. We also express our support to the recent reclassification of teachers from B1 to A4 prioritization. The elevation of teachers to the A4 priority list will contribute to addressing the safety concerns of parents on the infection of children with the COVID-19 virus. However, there are still groups of workers who are in close contact with children who need to be prioritized in the vaccination plan. These are the early childhood development workers, kindergarten teachers, community volunteers who cater to the learning needs of children aged 0-4 years of age, barangay health workers, barangay nutrition scholars, and parents/caregivers who oversee community-based supervised neighborhood play. In the 2015 Census of the Philippine Statistics Authority, there are 6.35 million children in the 0-2 years age group and 4.46 million in the 3-4 years age group who receive services from our early childhood development workers, kindergarten teachers, and parent volunteers. These groups are always in close contact with parents and caregivers for the distribution of learning kits, distribution of the Social Amelioration Program benefits to families, and providing support to parents on how to support their children’s development.
We are respectfully recommending to the Vaccine Cluster of the Inter Agency Task Force on Emerging and Infectious Diseases, and the Disease and Prevention Bureau of the Department of Health to ensure early childhood development workers, volunteers, barangay health workers and barangay nutrition scholars in the A4 priority group and/or fast track their vaccination for the following reasons:
1. Parents, guardians, and the children learners themselves will gain confidence in the services offered in community development centers and barangay health centers if staff and volunteers providing services are protected from the COVID-19 virus;
2. Accessing health services provided by barangay health workers and nutrition scholars will promote children’s well-being and increase their protection from infection; and
3. The restriction on the movement of children can be eased up because the risk of infection from the COVID-19 virus will be reduced by the vaccination of people they have to interact with for their early educational development and health concerns.
In relation to continuity of children’s education, we also recommend to the Department of Education and the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Council to consider the following before resumption of face-to-face classes to ensure safety of both learners and school personnel:
1. Use evidence-based risk assessment and ensure readiness of schools. Conduct consultations with parent associations, local health experts, civil society organizations, and children to collectively plan for the safe delivery of educational services, and closely coordinate with the LGUs in consideration of local context, health and safety protocols in place, including capacity to respond to infections.
2. Set clear health guidelines/protocols for safe delivery of educational services, with consideration to various contexts (appropriate learning modalities and COVID-19 risk level).
3. Repair and ensure school facilities and day care/ECCD centers are safe and disinfected as many of these were converted into quarantine and vaccination sites while some in the provinces were devastated by typhoons last year.
4. Manage risk communication by consistently sharing information to parents and children about plans for education service delivery. Create spaces for community engagement to address the gaps in the information loop.
5. Fast track vaccination of teachers, child development workers, and non-teaching personnel. In areas with high or volatile COVID-19 cases, vaccination of learners (when a vaccine for children is already approved and available) should be a minimum requirement.
The Joining Forces Alliance also expresses our support and willingness to collaborate with different government agencies on measures for the safe delivery of education and health services for children. With our member organizations’ programs, we aim to strengthen community support for the continuation of quality and inclusive blended and distance learning for all Filipino children, until schools are ready for face-to-face classes. Together, we can make these services available for children to lower their risk of violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
About the Joining Forces Alliance
The Joining Forces Alliance on the Elimination of Violence Against Children is a global alliance of child-focused international non-governmental organizations. We are advocating for a renewed commitment of governments to achieve the rights of children. We are composed of ChildFund Alliance, Educo, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages, Terre des Hommes International Federation, and World Vision Development Foundation.