Senators on Wednesday, October 6, urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to shorten its timeline for the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes.
Although the pilot run of limited face-to-face classes are set to start on November 15, senators at the Senate basic education committee hearing on Wednesday, expressed concern that the 120 schools for the pilot run are just a small fraction of some 60,000 public and private schools in the country.
Philippine schools were closed due to the pandemic in March 2020.
“Based on DepEd timeline, the time we will expand is on March 7 next year which is almost six months already. We’re only looking at 59 schools now. We have 60,000 schools. Of which 47,000 are public schools,” said Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the basic education committee.
“How come that it would take us six months to gather more information? My point is if we have this kind of timetable, we’d have two years of school closures,” he added.
Based on the DepEd timeline, officials will expand limited face-to-face classes on March 7 based on the assessment of the pilot run. The DepEd will identify and prepare more schools for limited face-to-face classes only in February.
“Bakit sa February pa ang preparation ng expansion schools? Hindi ba ito dapat continuing process? When we go back after the Christmas, hindi ba mas maganda na marami na tayo mabubuksan?” Senator Nancy Binay asked.
(Why is the preparation of expansion schools scheduled in February? Isn’t it a continuing process? When we go back after Christmas, isn’t it better if we open more schools?)
In response, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said that the timeline was crafted because they need the assistance of the Department of Health (DOH) in identifying the areas that are low or minimal risk for COVID-19.
“If it were for the education matters, your honors, certainly, we know the necessity of expanding as quickly as we can but we have to balance it with public health considerations,” Malaluan said.
In response, Gatchalian said: “We feel that the timetable is too long. We have to prepare to expand in areas where we can expand it.”
The need for pilot test
In the same hearing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained that they need to first see the successful implementation of the pilot limited face-to-face before they could decide on further expansion.
“That’s why we agreed on certain timelines to when we can expand,” she added. However, Vergeire said that the DOH is open to approving more schools as soon as more areas would be placed under the low risk category.
“It’s part of our discussion with our experts that we could add more areas, like Metro Manila, if and when hospital utilization declines,” Vergeire said.
“It has to be in the low risk to minimal risk areas. It doesn’t have to be a whole province, we can go granular,” she added.
An initial 59 public schools have passed the assessment of health officials to conduct the pilot face-to-face classes. The DepEd said that the DOH will provide a “rolling assessment” every Monday to increase the number of participating schools to 120.
“These identified schools were carefully tagged by the DOH Epidemiology Bureau as minimal or low risk, based on the Alert Levels by provinces/highly urbanized cities (HUC)/ independent component cities (ICC) and risk category by municipality and city,” the DepEd said.
Prior to the approval of in-person classes, the Philippines was among the last two countries in the world that had yet to reopen schools since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020.
For the second time, millions of Filipino students on September 13 started classes even as campuses remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. – Rappler.com