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May 22, 2020

‘Aug. 24 School Opening May Still Change’

‘Aug. 24 School Opening May Still Change’ A teacher from Halang Elementary School in San Nicolas, Batangas cleans up a classroom on Jan. 31, 2020 as classes were set to resume after more than two weeks of suspension due to the Taal Volcano eruption. In March, classes had to be suspended in Luzon and other areas due to the coronavirus disease 2019. Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo, The Philippine STAR

The Aug. 24 opening of classes is not cast in stone.

The government may defer the start of classes if some areas in the country remain under stringent community protocols due to the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.

“Well, you know we are flexible. Although we have said that Aug. 24 is the date of school opening, that assumes that we are already under GCQ (general community quarantine),” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in press briefing on Tuesday, May 19.

“If come Aug. 24, there are areas that are still under MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine) or have returned to ECQ, which is possible because social distancing is being disregarded, there might still be no classes,” he added.

Schools are not allowed to open in areas under the strictest ECQ and the more relaxed MECQ. For places that have shifted to GCQ, which is even more lenient, schools can assign a skeleton workforce to process requirements from students and to prepare for graduation and the next semester.

Only the cities of Cebu and Mandaue in the Visayas remain under ECQ, wherein mass transportation is suspended and only essential sectors like those involved in health care and food production and distribution are allowed to operate.

Metro Manila, which accounts for more than a third of the Philippine economy, Laguna, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales and Angeles City are now under MECQ while the rest of the country is under GCQ.

Another classification, the modified general community quarantine, is the most lenient although no area has shifted to the scenario. Under MGCQ, higher educational institutions can hold face-to-face classes but should comply with health standards and guidelines set by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Mass gatherings of students are still not allowed. For K-12 Basic Education, schools should follow the learning continuity plan of the Department of Education (DepEd).

Students at risk

Despite the easing of quarantine restrictions, some parents are wary of sending their children to school in August. Their concerns are not without basis.

Experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) have warned that opening classes in Metro Manila in August or September may increase the transmission of COVID-19, which has so far infected more than 13,000 people in the country.

“Now, more than ever, we need to adapt to a new normal of delivering learning with limited physical interaction. The right to education should not stop simply because schools are closed,” the experts said in a policy note dated May 7.

The experts added: “Schools under ECQ must remain closed, while areas under GCQ should consider a flexible schedule that limits physical interaction of children. School activities that entail a gathering of crowds must be postponed. To ensure continuity, various forms of distance learning must be explored, and in areas where such is not possible, low-cost technologies (e.g. IoT-based systems) can be put in place to facilitate connectivity.”

Read more:  UP experts: ECQ effective but ‘physical’ classes may increase COVID-19 transmission; senior citizens should limit movement

Some UP experts have also recommended canceling classes until December to contain the virus.

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases recently adopted the CHED recommendation to open schools based on education delivery mode.

Under the recommendation, higher learning educational institutions using full online education may open any time while those that have adopted flexible learning, which involves the use of both online and face-to-face classes, can begin classes in August. Institutions using significant face-to-face learning mode cannot start classes earlier than Sept. 1 in GCQ areas.

Read more: Distance learning, pre-opening activities by Aug. 3 among highlights of the upcoming school year

Mass testing demanded

A group of teachers has urged the government not to start classes until it carries out mass testing.

“Teachers are always willing stand on the frontlines of education, but opening our schools when there is no indication that the pandemic has effectively been combated puts the health and safety of the education sector, especially the students, in great peril,” the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said in a statement.

“The government has not conducted sufficient mass testing and effective contact tracing, while the healthcare system continues to grapple in fighting the pandemic with its very limited capacity and insufficiently addressed needs. There is no denying the Duterte administration’s failure to effectively put the health crisis under control despite the two-month lockdown and his emergency powers,” it added.

ACT claimed the simultaneous implementation of blended modes of learning and the adjustments in the K-12 curriculum “puts into question the quality of teaching and learning that will be delivered under the pandemic situation.”

“The teachers are sure to be the ones to bear the brunt of the coming school opening. DepEd Order No. 7 subjects them to more work days as they are told to render service two months before opening and even on weekends during the school year,” the group noted.

“Moreover, with DepEd’s foresight that many students will be left behind due to their lack of access to needed technologies, teachers are ordered to put in extra effort for remedial and enrichment activities on top of the already burdensome blended modes of teaching,” it said.

The group enumerated five prerequisites for school opening while the country is dealing with the pandemic. They want a comprehensive medical and socio-economic response to the crisis, and the establishment of health and safety measures at the school level, with sufficient funding. They want to ensure access to quality education by providing the requisites for all modes of learning and equipping teachers with skills to teach the revised curriculum. They also want protection for education workers’ labor rights and the grant of benefits. Lastly, they want democratic consultations with teachers, parents and learners.

“Without addressing all five, no return to schools shall take place. The safety of students and teachers comes first,” ACT said.

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