Enrollment in public schools nationwide will go as planned starting June 1, 2020, Malacanang said Wednesday.
“We will proceed because we need to be prepared. It’s a month-long enrollment and we have to prepare,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in an interview over dzMM Teleradyo.
He also clarified President Duterte’s remark on Monday that opening of classes cannot be allowed until a vaccine against COVID-19 becomes available so as not to put students at risk.
READ: Duterte says no school until there is a virus vaccine
But Roque said while face-to-face classes might not resume, the internet and other platforms for learning can be tapped.
“Formal learning will resume, possibly not face-to-face, but definitely blended,” he said.
From utilizing community radio and TV stations to internet-based learning, public and private schools in the Philippines have to “adapt with the times” to keep classes going amid the prevailing coronavirus disease, Roque said.
Formal classes resume on August 24, but whether face-to-face classes would be allowed still depend on whether the country has reached a “new normal” when all community quarantines have been lifted and there is a lower COVID-19 infection rate, he added.
READ: Only virus-free areas may open face-to-face classes
“What is certain is by August 24, formal learning will resume. Possibly not face-to-face (F2F), but definitely blended. We will never expose our children to any form of danger,” Roque said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel.
READ: It’s official: School opening starts August
Earlier, a coalition of private schools' groups urged the government to fund the online and distance education in both public and private schools, amid uncertainties in the resumption of classes due to COVID-19.
READ: Schools implement e-learning strategies amidst COVID-19
“Education is an essential activity, and a critically affected sector. It needs to continue. And it needs government support,” the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) said.
In another joint statement with the Federation of Associations of Private School Administrators (FAPSA), COCOPEA asked the government to allow education experts to work on various modes to deliver education amid COVID-19 while finding ways to assist them in sustaining their operations.
“Suspending school opening indefinitely until the vaccine is found, indeed, alleviates pressure on our healthcare systems on short term but certainly, this will strain and put more pressure on our already failing economy,” said COCOPEA managing director Atty. Joseph Noel Estrada.
Estrada said the government would save more in funding the online and distance education of students in schools than providing cash assistance to affected employees “if education is indefinitely stalled.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) will seek the help of local authorities in the distribution of printed learning modules to students to facilitate distance learning amid the pandemic.
Education Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio said distance learning can be done through printed self-learning modules and television and radio programs if a student does not have access to online learning platforms.
“The way I see it, a lot of Filipinos still don't have internet access,” he said in a radio interview.
Roque said the Department of Education (DepEd) would have to prepare for “blended learning” in case the new normal is not reached.
He pointed out that blended learning does not only involve online classes since there are still parts of the country without ready access to computers and the internet.
“We don’t get to new normal we’re also preparing for what is known as blended learning. Blended learning is not just online because we recognize that although we’re one of those in the 17th Congress that pushed for libreng Wi-Fi, there’s still far-flung areas without wifi,” said Roque, a former congressman.
He said special schools with at most 15 students in each class will have to seek accreditation from the DepEd before they open classes.
“I think it’s a matter of getting accreditation from the DepEd if it’s special learning which really only has about 15 students. I see no reason for the DepEd not to allow it. But there will really be an accreditation process to be arrived at by the DepEd," Roque said.
But the leftist group Anakbayan Southern Mindanao Region on Wednesday called for the cancellation of online classes and submission of requirements to universities and other colleges during the pandemic.
In a statement, Anakbayan said while some students can afford online education, most cannot. It added that not everyone has the necessary devices and stable internet connections, especially those who live in the countryside or in urban poor communities.
Senator Lito Lapid, meanwhile, said he wants to know the feasibility of mandating telecommunications companies to provide free internet access to online learning portals, educational websites, and similar digital platforms.
Free internet service, he said, could benefit all students and teachers at a time when physical classes cannot be conducted.
In the House, Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo said distance education would be difficult or impossible in remote barangays given the sad state of the country’s internet connectivity.
“We therefore have to first boost internet and wi-fi capability in rural areas and the provinces and even in Metro Manila and other highly urbanized cities to start and promote distance learning," she said.
Castelo proposed that a portion of the school building budget be added to billions of pesos in government funds intended to provide free internet and wi-fi service to the entire country.
“I think that we should not hold classes in all schools until the world finds a vaccine against COVID-19 and it is available in our country. We should not expose our children to the virus,” she said.
“We should play it safe for the sake of our children and even our teachers and other school personnel,” she said.
She added that it would be difficult to do physical distancing in public schools, which she said are overcrowded, forcing school officials to conduct two to three shifts of classes a day.
With the reopening of classes uncertain, Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr. urged the government to launch subsidy and loan programs for teachers and other school personnel in public and private schools.
In House Resolution 905 filed Tuesday, Gonzales, representative of Pampanga’s third district, addressed his appeal to the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Budget and Management, Department of Finance, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and National Economic and Development Authority.
In proposing loan and subsidy programs for school personnel, Gonzales said it is most likely that classes will not resume unless a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and is available in the country.
He said President Duterte, recognizing the risk the pandemic poses to school children and the people in general, has taken the position that classes would not resume in August as set by the DepEd unless there is a vaccine to fight the coronavirus disease.
READ: No June opening for grade school, August likely for all
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