MANILA, Philippines – After two years of implementing distance learning due to the pandemic, schools in the Philippines are set to return to face-to-face classes on Monday, August 22.
Not all schools will resume lessons in physical classrooms – 1,004 schools are still implementing remote classes for the meantime.
In a press briefing on Friday, August 19, Department of Education (DepEd) spokesman Michael Poa said a total of 24,175 schools will implement five days of face-to-face classes and 29,721 schools will hold classes through blended learning.
“Some schools will be in person, five days. Some schools will be blended. But let’s not forget that blended learning also has in-person classes for three days [in a week]. And then there’s full distance learning. So we are not expecting all of our schools to go to in-person immediately but we’re expecting that on Monday, most of our public schools will definitely go to-in person, five days,” Poa said in a Rappler Talk interview on Friday.
Poa said schools holding classes through distance learning are those that were affected by calamities, such as the magnitude 7 earthquake in Abra in July that affected other provinces as well. But these schools should transition to five days of face-to-face classes later on.
In her first order as DepEd chief, Vice President Sara Duterte ordered all schools to return to face-to-face classes on November 2, although exemptions can be given to very “specific areas.”
As of Saturday, August 20, a total of 27,691,191 students have enrolled for school year 2022-2023 – more than the previous school year’s 26.3 million students. The DepEd is aiming to enroll 28.6 million students for this school year.
“A bulk of our parents tend to enroll towards the end, because we Filipinos like doing everything during the last day. So that’s why hindi tayo tumitigil sa paghikayat sa ating mga magulang (we continue to urge parents) to please, let’s enroll our learners,” Poa said.
The return to in-person classes comes as the country is dealing with a fresh surge in COVID-19 infections and recorded monkeypox cases. COVID-19 infections this time are generally mild, thanks to vaccination.
Vaccination not required
There are no government-set preconditions for the return of students to the traditional mode of learning. They do not need to be vaccinated against the deadly virus that has so far infected over 3.8 million and killed 60,000 individuals in the Philippines.
Poa said there is no discrimination between vaccinated and unvaccinated students, as COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory in the Philippines. Based on DepEd data, 92% of its teaching and non-teaching staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Meanwhile, 19% of enrolled students have received their second dose of the vaccine.
Although vaccination is not a requirement, the DepEd has partnered with the Department of Health and local government units in holding counseling sessions to reach the unvaccinated.
There was also no class size set for each classroom. Duterte said physical distancing will be implemented “whenever possible.”
Classroom shortages have been a problem even before the pandemic. For instance, some 50 to 60 students were packed into one classroom supposedly meant for only 40. To make up for the lack of classrooms, class shifting has been implemented to accommodate enrollees every year. (READ: Classroom shortages greet teachers, students in opening of classes)
Though physical distancing will not be enforced, Duterte said the government will build more classrooms to address overcrowded classrooms. As a quick fix, shifting and temporary learning spaces were put up. Based on DepEd data, the Philippines lacks 91,000 classrooms for this school year.
Rising prices major concern for parents
While most parents favor the return to in-person classes, rising prices of basic commodities have become a major consideration for financially struggling families.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the country’s inflation rate jumped to 6.4% in July. Inflation refers to the rate of increase in the prices of goods.
National Statistician Dennis Mapa said the purchasing power of the Philippine peso has declined. P1 in 2018 was worth just P0.87 in June 2022. (READ: IN CHARTS: This is how inflation ruined Filipinos’ budget in June 2022)
High time to return to in-person classes
The return to face-to-face classes in the Philippines is long overdue, considering the country’s education system that is largely unprepared for distance learning. (READ: Distance learning in the Philippines: A year of hits and misses)
Studies showed students were “learning less” under the distance learning setup. Experts and lawmakers were alarmed by the learning losses brought by the pandemic.
According to a World Bank report, 9 in 10 Filipino students aged 10 struggle to read simple text.
While it is high time for Philippine schools to return to face-to-face classes, Duterte’s order drew criticism for the supposed lack of health protocols in place.
But for the Vice President, Filipinos are more than prepared now since it has been over two years since the pandemic began. – Rappler.com