Though the Department of Education (DepEd) is postponing face-to-face classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, Senator Win Gatchalian is urging the department to fast-track the installation of water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities (WASH) in public elementary and secondary schools where they are not yet available.
According to Gatchalian, adequate WASH facilities are long-term investments that would help schools observe proper hygiene and sanitation. He said that even if COVID-19 is contained and physical classes resume, these facilities are important to keep learners, teachers, and school personnel safe from the threat of other preventable diseases. The lawmaker added that soap, sanitizers, and alcohol should always be available in schools when physical classes resume.
Last year, DepEd reported that only half of 35,005 schools that participated in its ‘WASH in Schools’ (WinS) program have access to group handwashing facilities with soap and water available. DepEd also revealed that 37.4 percent of schools practice daily supervised handwashing. WinS aims to provide a comprehensive, sustainable, and scalable school-based water, hygiene, sanitation, health education and deworming program to achieve learning and health outcomes.
In 2016, DepEd reported that 3,628 public schools had no regular source of safe and clean water.
“Hindi na kailangan ng pandemya para ipaalala sa mga eskwelahan ang importanteng mga bagay na ito. Pero dahil sa krisis na dulot ng COVID-19, kailangang magdobleng ingat tayo at laging maging handa para mapanatili ang kaligtasan at kalusugan ng mga mag-aaral, guro at kawani ng paaralan,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
In Senate Bill No. 1565 or the Education in the New Normal Act, which calls for the development of a Safe Schools Reopening Plan, Gatchalian also proposed that local school boards be allowed to utilize the “Special Education Fund” of local government units (LGUs) for the provision of handwashing facilities, soap, alcohol, sanitizers and other public health supplies such as thermometers, face masks, and face shields.
The proposed measure also mandates the implementation of information campaigns in schools to highlight the importance of regular handwashing and sanitizing, as well as other protocols on disease prevention and control.
“Kasama sa pagbangon ng ating sistema ng edukasyon mula sa naging epekto ng COVID-19 ang pagkakaroon ng sapat at malinis na tubig sa bawat paaralan, pati na ng mga pasilidad at programang pang-kalusugan at pang-kalinisan,” the senator said.