Good intention, bad timing

By Joshua Corcuera

Recently, several news outlets reported that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has ordered limited face-to-face classes to all degree programs on January 31 this year. On one hand, it seems good that the resumption of face-to-face classes is near, but it is worrisome that students would go back to schools at a period of time that is relatively unsafe.

“The date of the phase 2 of the implementation of limited face-to-face classes for all programs of HEIs under Alert Level 3 should begin on 31 January 2022 (Monday),” CHED said in an advisory last Tuesday, January 11, as reported by various media outlets.

More than 34,000 cases were reported as I write this article on Thursday night, January 13. The positivity rate remains very high at more than 40%, and several cities and provinces are placed under Alert Level 3. In urban areas, cases are unusually high, and restrictions are, for obvious reasons, being imposed once more. It is unsafe to get out and it is best to stay home for a while. Hopefully, cases would decline as early as the last week of the month or early February—but only time can tell with certainty. Had CHED issued its statement under conditions similar to November or December last year, it would be—without doubt—a positive news. However, because it is mid-January, there are mixed emotions.

So, what should we do now? College students, faculty, and other staff must be vaccinated as soon as possible, so that COVID-19 outbreaks within universities would be prevented. Additionally, educational institutions must strictly impose preventive measures, for obvious reasons, against the virus—such as wearing masks and physical distancing. Since universities and colleges serve as a place of wisdom and a haven for science and reason, vaccine hesitation should not be a major concern. After all, vaccines have successfully helped us surmount the Delta variant of COVID-19 immediately last year. Hopefully, the same will be true with the Omicron variant we are currently dealing with.

Aside from vaccinations and preventive measures, it is often suggested by students that face-to-face classes be limited, and for good reason. Some degree programs, actually, can survive online, somehow. Perhaps, just perhaps, they can wait just a little bit longer. Thus, those degree programs that require hands-on instruction must be prioritized for face-to-face classes in the meantime. These include medical-related programs and those that use laboratories, for instance. Some universities have allowed such programs to study face-to-face and have successfully prevented serious outbreaks of COVID-19 within academic halls.

This argument, however, would be likely opposed by those in rural areas where online classes are inconvenient and stressful. For this reason, it should not come as a surprise that some students like to go back to face-to-face classes despite the current danger we are dealing with.

Nevertheless, the point is that we must ensure that the resumption of face-to-face classes will (1) be safe and (2) happen as soon as possible. Personally, at this point, I do not think that it is necessary that all students be sent back immediately. What has been done since last year—allowing certain programs to go back while others stay online for a while—seems to be working just fine. To be fair, it is a good idea that college students would be the first ones to go back to school compared to grade schoolers, given that many students in higher education have been vaccinated.

Altogether, we have to focus on certain targets. First things first: get rid of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 immediately so that we can return to normal, for workers and students alike.