opening of classes

What will the PH’s first day of school look like in a pandemic?

Bonz Magsambol

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No long lines at the school gates. No visible first day school jitters.

Going back to school this year is going to be very different, with over 22 million public school students in the country starting classes again in the middle of an untamed pandemic.

No long lines at the school gates. No visible first day school jitters.

Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive for schools to delay face-to-face classes until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, DepEd shifted to distance learning for the coming school year.

Distance learning is when teachers and their students are geographically remote from each other during instruction. This means lessons will be delivered outside the traditional face-to-face setup, through a mix of modular learning, online learning, and TV and radio broadcasts. (READ: FAST FACTS: DepEd’s distance learning)

In a virtual press briefing on Monday, September 28, Education Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio said one thing is certain on the first day of classes – there will be no students in schools.

“Yung first [day of school], siyempre iba-iba siya kasi iba-iba ‘yung learning delivery modality pero ang sigurado natin ay kung pupunta tayo sa school, wala tayong matatagpuang estudyante,” San Antonio said.

(What the first day at each school will be like will vary depending on the learning modality, but one thing is for sure: if we go to the actual schools, there will be no students there.)

What will the PH’s first day of school look like in a pandemic?

San Antonio said they are expecting students to be inside their homes, learning through educational programs on the TV or radio. (READ: DepEd taps PH’s broadcast journalists to train teachers for TV programs)

“May hawak din silang supplementary learning resource, halimbawa SLMs (self-learning modules) o aklat. At ‘yung mga activity sheets, sinusubok na nilang sagutin kung capable sila at independent-learners. Kahit walang magsusupervise, kaya nila itong gawin lalong-lalo na sa higher grades,” San Antonio added.

(The students have in their hands supplementary learning resources, such as SLMs or books. And they will try to answer the activity sheets if they are capable and independent learners. Even though no one is supervising them, they can handle this, especially students from higher grade levels.)

For those in lower grade levels, San Antonio said they expect students to be under the supervision of an adult as they go through the SLMs. (READ: FAST FACTS: DepEd’s modular learning)

Meanwhile, for online classes, San Antonio said that teachers will likely set a schedule for synchronous or real-time meetings. (READ: LOOK: DepEd suggested screen time for students during online classes)

He said, however, that students might encounter problems with internet connectivity. (READ: During pandemic, student climbs a mountain to send class requirement)

“‘Yun medyo may risk. Sinasabing paano kung biglang hindi pala reliable ang ating internet provider? Kaya alam po natin na as early as now, may ano na rin ‘yan, back up plans. Kung nakuha na ‘yung learning materials na nasa digital format, puwede na hong mag-proceed ang bata sa pag-aaral,” he added.

(There’s a bit of a risk. What if internet connectivity is not reliable? That’s why as early as now, it’s important to have back-up plans. If students were already able to get the learning materials in digital format, they can proceed with studying.)

Meanwhile, teachers are expected to talk to their students via text message, phone call, or any messaging platform to ask about and assess their students’ needs.

“Alam na rin nila kung sino ‘yung bibigyan ng pansin. Inaasahan na rin natin ‘yung mga very professionally committed fellow teachers natin ay magbibigay sila ng mga follow-up [sa mga estudyante],” San Antonio said.

(They’ll know which students need guidance. We’re also expecting our very professionally committed fellow teachers to follow up with students on what they need.)

The decision to open classes in the middle of a pandemic was met with criticism. Students and parents pointed out that their household finances have been affected by almost 6 months of lockdown, and they could not afford to buy the tools needed for the revamped education system. (READ: No student left behind? During pandemic, education ‘only for those who can afford’)

As of Monday, a total of 24,661,788 public and private schools have signed up for the school opening. This is 3 million less than last year’s 27.7 million enrollees.

Public schools are set to open on October 5, while some private schools began their classes in August. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.