By Jemy Gatdula
I ronically, last month’s Senate inquiry regarding the country’s preparedness to shift to online learning was perhaps best answered by this fact: the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Deputy Commissioner being unable to testify due reportedly to “technical issues.”
That’s the NTC. Unable to connect to the Senate.
And the government expects 23 million public school students (based on 2018 figures) to learn via laptops, computers, and the internet?
It’s almost dogma that our youth’s education is amongst our country’s highest priority. Fifty-three percent of our population is of school age, i.e., from kinder to college (0-24 years old). That’s nearly 53 million Filipinos in need of proper education.
And yet, despite letting a school semester go by under quite less than desirable conditions, we’re actually considering having our youths undergo another semester, even a school year or two, of considerably depreciated learning.
The reason is supposedly COVID-19: that the safety of the students, teachers, and their families be prioritized instead. But is such really necessary?
Worldometer presents (as of May 13) the best age stratification data: 0-9 years of age show no fatalities, 10-19 years at .2%, 20-29 also at .2%. Our June 30 figures support this: of the 1,266 deaths, 2.5% came from the 0-19 age range, 2.2% for 20-29 years old. That’s a total of 59 deaths out of 1,266. On the other hand, 64.5% of all deaths were significantly among people 60 years old and up.
But here’s more: the Italian national health authority found that 99% of those who died from the coronavirus suffered from previous medical conditions. Worldometer backs this with its own finding that just .9% of COVID-19 deaths are of people with no pre-existing health conditions.
Thus, it’s possible to pinpoint those likely to be seriously affected by the virus: those 60 years old and above and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Protection and healthcare can thus be focused.
Interestingly, between Jan. 1 and Oct. 19, 2019, there were 371,717 dengue
cases reported, with 1,407 deaths, a fatality rate seemingly higher than the coronavirus. Of those deaths, 535 were children ages five to nine years old. The schools weren’t shut then.
Regarding the coronavirus, the scientific consensus presently is that its infection fatality rate is between 0.07-0.20%, a bit like the seasonal flu. But that’s on the general level.
For younger people without pre-existing health problems, the average infection fatality rate goes much lower and nearly zero percent for children. That’s significant because not only is there evidence that the lethality of the coronavirus is not as bad as previously thought, the ability to treat the virus is also improving day by day.
As of July 5, 99.4% of our active cases are either asymptomatic or mild. In the unfortunate circumstance a person falls within that 0.6% of severe or critical coronavirus cases, the chances of dying is just 4%.
Studies show youths don’t generally transmit the virus to adults. In fact, adults are far likelier to get the virus from other adults. Children are more prone to get the virus from the adults, particularly with prolonged stay indoors.
Hence, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “Denmark, Austria, Norway, Finland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries that have reopened classrooms haven’t had outbreaks in schools or day-care centers.”
With 53% of our population in the 0-24 age range, with 90% between 0-54, with a median age of 23.7 years, there’s no rational reason to keep our youths away from the classrooms.
Keeping children in school, where teachers, guidance counselors, and mentors can keep a subsidiary check on our youth’s physical and emotional health, will actually do a lot for their safety rather than locking them up at home.
A 2016 UNICEF study found that 17.1% of children aged 13-18 experienced sexual violence, with 13.7% of such violence occurring at home. Reportedly, 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depression, which psychologists say is aggravated by continuous online presence. Pre-coronavirus, around 10 Filipinos die from suicide daily, of which approximately 34% are 24 years old and below.
Having our youths in school is crucial as most significant learning occurs with the students’ personal interaction with peers and teachers, in the classroom and common areas.
Most of the faculty will be below 60 years of age, with those 60-65 and above likely retired. But even for those of senior age still teaching, such faculty members can opt to teach online, while the younger faculty engages in face-to-face classes.
In terms of liability, the schools can have parents sign waivers for those choosing classroom instruction. Congress can help by enacting laws lifting liabilities for schools.
All things considered, parents must have the option of asking for physical classroom instruction for their children, with others opting for online classes (for justifiable, rather than merely paranoiac, health reasons).
The point is, if we really care for our youths’ education and future, things can be done rather than just passively waiting until a vaccine shows up.
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.