Yesterday, February 21, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) issued a moratorium suspending all field trips and educational tours in colleges and universities. It was a response to the ongoing investigation into the tragic death of 15 people -- 13 of whom are freshman students -- during a school field trip in Tanay, Rizal.
The tragedy has resulted in debate about the merits of students taking a field trip -- is it even necessary? It's a discussion that a school should have with parents, and parents should have with their kids. But it's hard to deny the purpose that field trips serve. For many kids, it is their first taste of travel; they discover that learning is possible outside the four walls of the school. It helps to inspire kids to think about what they want to do in the future. Kids who need a little push when it comes to their imagination may find a creative outlet after an educational tour.
Parents who already have school age kids know the above already -- it's why they sign the consent form. But, in case you're a new parent about to send off your kids to school, or they're about to go on an educational trip on their own without you, the school should have measures in place to assure you of your child's safety.
What you should expect from schools Every school, from preschool to university, has different policies on field trips. But it should follow the guidelines set by the Department of Education (Order 52, which has this provision that includes private schools) and CHED (specifically Memorandum No. 17). In CHED's memorandum, colleges and universities should only use tour operators and tour guides from the Department of Tourism. Each school has its own bidding process which tour operator to pick.
If your school practices due diligence, however, it has done more than scouted the destination, says two school faculty members who spoke to us on the condition they not be named since they were not speaking on behalf of the schools. "We have a risk assessment plan that details the possible risks of an activity and the measures we need to set in place to address the needs of the students," says a professor who serves as a point person for field trips in his college.
A grade school teacher who has chaperoned on field trips adds, "We do location checks. Okay ba ang dadaanan? Safe ba ang lugar? Then we get an orientation from the accredited tour group to discuss what the kids can and cannot do, how long it will take, etc. We even take into account that food has to be in reusable containers, so we don't leave any waste behind."
A good school will take the time to discuss the trip via a parent-teacher conference or a letter that details the trip's itinerary, from the kids' activities to the number of adults going. One school even lists every event lined up for the child, and a parent needs to tick off which ones he allows his child to do.
Another institution applies a ratio of one faculty member to 20 students when it comes to supervision. Most schools will have a buddy system in place, and adults always accompany the kids during bathroom breaks. By Grade 1 or 2, students will be unaccompanied by their parents, but most field trips will have parent representatives to support the faculty. They also have medical and security personnel as part of the adult entourage apart from a first aid kit (one school has one first aid kit for each bus).
If you feel like information is lacking about your child's trip, do not hesitate to ask your child's teacher. Remember that your child, whether he is 7 or 17 years old, cannot take an educational tour without a signed consent form.
What you need to discuss with your kids Before your child goes on his trip, sit him down to discuss the following:
1. Enforce the “stick to the group” rule. Remind your child never to wander off on his own. As mentioned, most schools make use of a buddy system -- tell him to follow this strictly.
If he needs to leave the group, he needs to have an adult to go with him -- non-negotiable. If he does get lost, teach him how to identify and ask help from police officers, school tour guides, and employees (when at museums, zoos, etc.).
Teach your child to do the "No, Go, Yell, Tell" practice when approached by an unfamiliar adult, as recommended by the U.S. National Crime Prevention Council. It starts by saying “No!” to the person, running away, yelling loudly to attract attention and telling a trusted adult what happened. Practice the steps at home.
2. Go over important information. Make sure your child has memorized her full name, teacher and school’s name, your name, and your phone number. For young children, you can write these down on a card and tuck into your child’s belongings. Make a few copies to place inside her bag and pants pocket. Instruct your child to show the card when she needs help and can’t find her teacher. Unfamiliar places can frighten small children, so perform a role play at home. Tell her exactly what she’ll be feeling, what the situation will look like and how she can ask for help.
3. Talk about safety. Go over passenger safety rules: stay seated when the bus is in motion, never stand behind a parked vehicle, wear seatbelts, and sit facing the front. Hygiene is important in public areas, too, especially with your child most likely excitedly interacting and touching everything during his trip. Remind your child to wash his hands before and after eating, and after using the toilet. Pack him wet wipes, alcohol or hand sanitizer as well.
If museums, factories, and zoos are included in the itinerary, remind your child to follow instructions and not to touch or interact with objects without the teacher giving the go signal. Running, climbing and shouting are also not a good idea unless in play areas.
4. Double check supplies. Nature adventures and lectures held outdoors beat sitting in a classroom all day. Without the four walls, however, your child needs additional protection. Aside from following the school’s tips on what to wear for the trip, pack your child a hat, sunglasses and an umbrella. Slather on sunblock before she heads out in the morning, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. recommends finding one with at least SPF 15 and has UVA and UVB protection.
Provide protection from mosquito bites as well with insect repellent lotion. Mosquito patches are ineffective at warding off the bloodsuckers, research has found. Instead, go for bug lotions with picaridin or DEET. If you’d rather go natural, look for one with lemon eucalyptus oil. More info on bug repellents and product suggestions here.
5. Communicate with the teacher. If your big kid or tween is allowed to have a mobile phone, he should use his phone only for communication purposes so it does not run out of power. Make sure it is loaded with call and text credit. Set a schedule or the number of times he needs to stay in touch. You may want to think about providing your older kids a fully charged power bank.
Some parents stay in touch with an adult, parent or teacher, present on the field trip. One mom tells us her school has a group message chat where a school rep provides status updates of the trip.
Sending off our kids to a field trip is always a nerve-racking experience. How do you handle it? What precautions would you like to suggest to fellow moms? Comment down below!