Senators have filed a resolution seeking the "immediate launch" of pilot testing of limited face-to-face classes in the 1,605 schools identified by the Department of Education (DepEd).
Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Joel Villaueva, and Sonny Angara filed Senate Resolution No. 668 on Monday, March 1, to allow DepEd to "gather evidence on the ground and design its framework for the safe reopening of schools."
In filing the resolution, the senators said that "prolonged pandemic school closures have adversely affected the learners' education," and have impacted the most vulnerable and poor students "more severely."
Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate basic eduction committee, said that the resolution "does not seek to railroad the return of face-to-face classes nationwide." (READ: Senators want pilot test of face-to-face classes to 'fine-tune' system)
"What is sought here is to empower DepEd to begin a methodical process of gathering evidence on the ground to guide its framework for the safe reopening of schools using a risk-based assessment to identify, analyze and reduce the risks affecting each school," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday, February 28, again reiterated that he will not allow the resumption of face-to-face classes even as the country started its vaccination drive against COVID-19 with donated doses from China.
Philippine schools have stopped face-to-face classes for almost a year now, forcing students and teachers to shift to distance learning. (READ: FAST FACTS: DepEd’s distance learning)
The implementation of distance learning, however, has been widely criticized, as the country appears to be not fully prepared for it. This is evident in the difficulty of teachers to cope with the new mode of instruction, lack of access of a number of students to gadgets needed for the shift, and reports of erroneous learning modules.
Despite the lack of classrooms, nurses, and health facilities in public schools, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, on February 18, renewed calls for face-to-face classes. She cited the results of a DepEd survey that supposedly showed that a majority of students want face-to-face classes.
Reporters have been asking the DepEd for a copy of the survey since then, but DepEd has yet to release the copy as of posting time.
The senators also said that the prohibition of in-person classes has affected the quality of Philippine education as the country remains the only nation in East Asia and the Pacific Region with schools that have remained closed since March 2020.
They added that school closures have "further resulted in significant learning loss," considering that prior to the pandemic, Filipino students were already lagging behind other countries in global academic assessments. (READ: PH lowest among 58 countries in math, science – global assessment)
This is the not the first time that senators called for the resumption of in-person classes. In November 2020, some of them urged DepEd to consider resuming face-to-face classes, as they expressed concern about how much knowledge students are able to retain from the current modes of remote learning, especially those unable to take online classes.
A Rappler investigative story published in early February revealed that some students are even paying others to do their classwork.