'Bakuna muna': Duterte rejects August opening of classes

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, May 25, rejected moves to open the upcoming school year in August, clashing with the Department of Education's (DepEd) earlier announcement it could resume face-to-face classes in areas with eased quarantine protocols.

Duterte stated his position on the matter in a recorded address aired close to midnight on Monday, saying unless a coronavirus vaccine was available, he would not allow children to physically attend classes.

"I will not allow the opening of classes na magdikit-dikit 'yang mga bata. Bahala na 'di makatapos, for this generation wala na makatapos na doktor, pati engineer. Wala nang aral, laro na lang, unless I am sure they are really safe," Duterte said.

(I will not allow the opening of classes where students are close to one another. Never mind if they can't finish, [if] for this generation, there will be no [student] who will finish as a doctor or engineer. No more studies, just play unless I am sure they are really safe.)

He added, "It's useless to be talking about opening of classes. Para sa akin, bakuna muna (For me, there has to be a vaccine first)."

The President's decision departs from Education Secretary Leonor Briones' earlier announcement that classes for school year 2020-2021 would resume on August 24 – a call approved by the government's task force on the coronavirus last May 11.

Briones had mentioned classes may be conducted physically or virtually, depending on the state of the coronavirus pandemic. She added it was "highly likely" that classes would be held online for areas under enhanced community quarantine, and that face-to-face classes may take place after August 24 "in areas allowed to open physically."

As of Monday, only Cebu City and Mandaue City remain under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Metro Manila, Laguna, Bataan, Angeles City, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Zambales are under modified ECQ, while the rest of the country has shifted to a general community quarantine.

DepEd's decision was not well received, with parents and students criticizing the department and saying it could be difficult for some students to enroll after the income of many households were affected due to the pandemic.

Teachers also expressed their dismay over DepEd's decision, saying it could put children and the safety of their families at risk.

Meanwhile, DepEd earlier said distance learning options would also be adopted, while teaching methods and curriculum would be updated to match the "new normal" during coronavirus pandemic.

The current setup, however, left many teachers and students overwhelmed, and highlighted deep divides in access to education among those who could afford resources needed to keep up with schooling during the pandemic. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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