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DepEd Chief Declares Triumphant Opening Of Remote Learning; Palace Says Duterte Open To Pilot-Test Of In-Person Classes

DepEd Chief Declares Triumphant Opening Of Remote Learning; Palace Says Duterte Open To Pilot-Test Of In-Person Classes
A Kinder 1 student of the San Diego Elementary School in Quezon City attends online class at home during the first day of school year 2021-2022 on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Photo by Boy Santos, The Philippine STAR

Education Secretary Leonor Briones declared on Monday, Sept. 16,  the Department of Education (DepEd) “triumphantly” opened classes in public schools with a good number of students going back to school under blended learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today, Sept. 13, 2021, DepEd and the rest of the country celebrate with great joy its success in opening classes for the second year in the time of COVID-19,” Briones said in a virtual address for DepEd’s Oplan Balik Eskwela ceremonies.

“The challenges that we are facing now are even tougher than those we battled last year. Nonetheless, as of (Monday)…24,603,822 learners have returned to school, excluding those who are enrolled in our alternative learning systems, as well as those in overseas schools. So we are expecting the numbers to grow even bigger and higher as all the reports come in,” Briones said.

She noted the 24.6-million enrollees could still increase as the DepEd had extended enrollment up to Sept. 30. “That is something. We (still) hope to match it (last year’s enrollment of 26.22 million).”

Briones said DepEd will again deliver learning through their blended learning program but gave assurance they are looking at how Southeast Asian neighbors have resumed face-to-face learning, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

“The different countries now have their different versions of face-to-face. Even face-to-face is changing,” Briones said, noting that other countries were coming up with different versions of in-person classes.

DepEd had ruled out earlier proposals from the Coordinating Council of Private Educations Associations (COCOPEA) to allow certain private schools to pilot the holding of face-to-face classes.

“It’s not just an education concern. It’s also a public health concern. This is something that requires the recommendation of the Department of Health,” Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said.

 “At this point, the matter of face-to-face classes is not solely with the Department of Education. It also has to reach the level of the President,” Malaluan said.

Briones insisted that DepEd had satisfactorily prepared facilities and other resources, as well as brought about higher salaries and allowances for mentors.

“We prepared our learning facilities and distributed gadgets with the help of local government units, national agencies like the Bureau of Customs of the Department of Finance, multilateral and bilateral partners, as well as business and civil society organizations,” Briones said.

“We have succeeded in increasing the salaries and benefits of our teachers and non-teaching staff. Right now, we are negotiating with Civil Service Commission and the Department of Budget and Management for additional teaching positions such as Teachers IV-VII, as well as Master Teacher V. Never have our teachers been as well protected and better paid as now,” Briones added.

In-person classes

 President Duterte reacted positively to DepEd’s proposal to conduct pilot face-to-face classes in about 150 schools in low-risk areas, but has yet to make a final decision on the matter.

“Secretary Briones reported to the President and the President had a positive reaction to the possibility of having a pilot study on a very limited basis. Well, his reaction is positive but there is no go-signal yet to have it. We are just preparing for the pilot but there is no actual go-signal yet,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.?

Duterte had thumbed down previous proposals to hold face-to-face classes in low-risk areas, citing the emergence of highly contagious COVID-19 variants that can place the safety of students at risk.?

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been hoping that the Philippines would consider the phased reopening of schools, beginning in low-risk areas with “proper safety protocols in place.”

Taguig ready

 Taguig City said it plans to be the first in Metro Manila to reopen face-to-face classes, once approved by DepEd.

DepEd Taguig division office chief George Tizon proposed that classes for Grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 would be held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while classes for Grades 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Only 5,000 out of the over 134,000 pupils and students currently registered for school year 2021-2022 would be chosen to attend physical classes.

In Pangasinan, 16 town mayors issued executive orders suspending the opening of classes in their area to Oct. 4 due to rising COVID-19 cases.

But DepEd’s regional director cautioned that only Malacañang is empowered to do this.

Protests

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) on Monday joined the clamor for the safe return of children to school, insisting that distance learning is inappropriate for the children of lowly paid workers.

“Workers have little pay and the internet load and gadgets needed for online classes are just additional expenses. More children were unable to go to school or were forced to stop school-ing because of distance learning,” the labor group said.

In Quezon City, students and parents from the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns held a protest in front of President Corazon Aquino Elementary School to call for the safe reopening of schools and bigger state support for distance learning.

At the Senate, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian called for upholding the safety and welfare of the country’s teachers, non-teaching staff and school officials against COVID-19.

He reiterated the need to vaccinate both teachers and minors prior to the gradual reopening of schools, which should start with pilot testing in low-risk areas.

Sen. Francis Tolentino agreed, saying that national government should allow the resumption of limited face-to-face classes for post-graduate students who are fully vaccinated.

For former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the DepEd must ensure that there are no errors in the modules used for blended learning.

Marcos said a DepEd undersecretary admitted that from October 2020 to June 2021, there were 163 reported errors in the learning materials used during the previous school year.

He urged the education department to create committees that will review and edit learning materials to prevent a repeat of last school year’s fiasco. – With Ghio Ong, Eva Visperas, Mayen Jaymalin, Rhodina Villanueva, Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe