Panama readies schools for return to in-person learning

Panama City, Feb 18 (EFE).- Upwards of 73 percent of Panama’s 3,102 public schools are ready for the return of more than 933,000 students to classrooms after two years of remote learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, President Laurentino Cortizo said.

Janitorial teams were using nebulizers Friday to clean and disinfect schools in the Panama City metropolitan area as part of a sanitation program that has been accompanied by a push to complete long-deferred renovations and repairs.

“We have made every effort for the facilities to be optimal, clean,” district official Ernesto Sanchez told Efe at a school in the capital.

While 2021 saw a partial resumption of in-person education at individual public and private schools, remote learning has been the main model during the pandemic.

“The distance strategy was an alternative to avoid a stalling of the process (of learning). We know, however, the importance of that coexistence” inside the classroom, Sanchez said.

Starting March 7, he said, the government aims to ensure “students have access to in-person education.”

Students and staff will be required to wear masks and to maintain a distance of 1 meter (3.27 ft).

The education ministry enabled a selective renewal of in-person classes in the spring of last year, but few parents were willing to send their children back to the classroom.

As of Dec. 30, according to the ministry, roughly 62 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 16 had received the Covid-19 vaccine.

And since Jan. 7, nearly 27 percent of children 5-11 have been inoculated with the pediatric dose of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

“We urge parents to take advantage of the vaccination campaigns,” Sanchez said. “It’s also a way to bolster the strategy of returning to classes.”

Authorities have acknowledged that after a massive turnout at vaccination centers in the early days of the child-inoculation program, fewer and fewer parents are bringing their kids to get shots.

In response, the education ministry will offer vaccination in public schools, but Sanchez stressed that students will not be required to get the vaccine. EFE gf-cl/dr

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