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Pilot Of Face-To-Face Classes Set Nov. 15

Pilot Of Face-To-Face Classes Set Nov. 15
A teacher cleans up a classroom at Halang Elementary School in San Nicolas, Batangas on Jan. 31, 2020 as classes were set to resume after more than two weeks of suspension due to the Taal Volcano eruption. Since March 2020, however, classes had to be suspended in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo, The Philippine STAR

The pilot run of limited face-to-face (F2F) classes for kindergarten up to senior high school in areas deemed low risk for COVID-19 will start on Nov. 15, an official of the Department of Education (DepEd) said on Wednesday, Oct. 6.

At the hearing of the Senate committee on basic education on the resumption of F2F classes, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said 59 public schools have passed the assessment of health officials to conduct the pilot F2F classes.

He said DepEd would continue to assess nominated schools until the initial quota for the pilot run is reached.

“There were preparations to see that all systems go… We start on Nov. 15, the face-to-face classes and we set it in pilot schools at the start of the second quarter of the academic calendar,” Malaluan said during the hearing presided over by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian.

Malaluan added there would be close monitoring and assessment of the initial run.

“It will end by December and will reopen in January. We are targeting an expansion by March 7,” Malaluan added.

Quoting a UNICEF report, Gatchalian said the Philippines is one of only two countries which have yet to conduct F2F classes since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March last year.

Under DepEd guidelines, Malaluan said class size should be at a maximum of 12 learners for Kindergarten, 16 for Grades 1 to 3, 20 for senior high schools (SHS) and 12 for SHS students in a workshop/science and laboratory.

He noted that Kindergarten would have three-hour classes, while SHS would have four hours so that students won’t need to stay longer in school premises. He said students will also be supervised during recess.

Gatchalian said he is personally monitoring the present enrollment figures versus pre-pandemic levels.

Malaluan said there was a seven percent increase in enrollment at 28.2 million this year from last school year’s 26.2 million.

“We have surpassed the pre-pandemic level so, in other words, we’re back to normal in terms of enrollment figures,” Malaluan added.

Gatchalian expressed concern over the enrollment figures in private schools, which decreased from 4.3 million in 2019 to 1.9 million in 2021.

Vaccination priority

Sen. Nancy Binay, meanwhile, called on education and health officials to prioritize teachers in the national COVID-19 vaccination program as the government prepares for the resumption of F2F classes.

Binay made the appeal after learning that the vaccination rate for the entire teaching population under DepEd is only more than 30%.

“Maybe we can do a special vaccination program for our teachers. If we were able to do it for our tourism industry workers, why can’t we do it for our teachers?” Binay said.

Sen. Pia Cayetano said she finds it alarming that only 30% of teachers nationwide were fully vaccinated, noting that DepEd should have made adequate preparations in the one and a half years the schools had been closed due to the pandemic.

In a statement, the DepEd said the schools chosen for the pilot run of F2F classes “were carefully tagged by the DOH Epidemiology Bureau as minimal or low risk, based on the alert levels by provinces/highly urbanized cities/independent component cities and risk category by municipality and city.”

There were a total of 21 public schools approved for resumption in Zamboanga del Sur, 12 in Cebu province, seven in Sarangani and six in Lanao del Norte.

There were also four identified public schools in Masbate, one in Aklan, two in Antique, four in Zamboanga Sibugay and two in North Cotabato.

A rolling assessment will be made every Monday to increase the number of participating schools to 120, the approved number for the pilot program.

DepEd said that it is in the process of providing additional layers of protection for these schools in preparation for the pilot phase and will conduct extensive coordination with concerned local government units and stakeholders.

“As we look to implement the actual pilot run this year, we are seeking everyone’s support in the gradual reintroduction of physical classes moving forward. Our commitment of shared responsibility to protect everyone is our key to safely return to our schools,” the department added.

Learners must submit a signed consent from their parents and they should be without comorbidities.

Teachers and school staff who will directly interact with learners in the pilot run must also be fully vaccinated.