Senators want pilot test of face-to-face classes to 'fine-tune' system

Senators propose a pilot test of face-to-face classes at a small number of schools to prepare the system and address gaps before all schools in the country reopen.

At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, February 24, Senator Francis Pangilinan said that the pilot test could be done at 100 schools instead of the initial 1,605 identified by the Department of Education (DepEd).

"Kung mayroong UK variant at natatakot doon sa pagkalat, e di bawasan natin ang pilot areas – gawin nating isang daan muna. Ang importante, mayroon tayong pagkukunan ng karanasan ngayon pa lang," Pangilinan said.

(If we have cases of the UK variant and we fear its spread, then let's just reduce the number of areas participating in the pilot test – let's make it a hundred for now. What's important that we gain some experience early on.)

"It would be better if [DepEd] has alternative options just to be able to get a system going and be able to fine-tune," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"Ang importante napa-pilot at nakikita iyong mga (What's important is you're able to do pilot runs and discover) gaps, so that when you expand it even to 1,065, you already have the experience of 500 or 300 to work around and to work on the necessary adjustments," he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday, February 21, again rejected a bid to hold face-to-face classes set forth by the DepEd. He cited the unavailability of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

Earlier this year, Duterte recalled his order allowing limited in-person classes in some areas due to the emergence of the more-infectious COVID-19 variant.

In a statement on Wednesday night, the DepEd said that it will follow the decision of the President to defer the implementation of limited face-to-face classes.

"Existing laws expressly provide power to the President to make final decisions on education policies," it said.

However, it will continue to prepare "action plans" should Duterte give his approval in the coming months.

Opportunity for experts to study pandemic effects

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the basic education committee, said that pilot testing of limited face-to-face classes would help experts to study how to lessen the effects of the pandemic.

"Hindi naman po ibig sabihin na kinancel iyong ating face-to-face, titigil na rin tayo sa pilot schools (The cancellation of face-to-face classes doesn't mean we should also stop our pilot runs). This is a good way for our scientists to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of COVID-19," he said.

Gatchalian earlier urged the government to study the findings of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to safely reopen schools.

He also reiterated that resuming safe face-to-face classes would help address the challenges of the distance learning system, which include unstable internet connectivity, poor quality of education, and students who are unable to catch up with lessons.

This is the not the first time that senators called for the resumption of in-person classes. In November 2020, some of them had urged DepEd to consider resuming face-to-face classes, as they expressed apprehensions about whether students are able to retain much from the current modes of remote learning, especially those unable to take online classes.

Rappler investigative story published on February 2 revealed that some students are even paying others to do their classwork.

The issue of whether students are actually learning in a remote set-up is concerning, as recent global assessments showed that Filipino students lagged behind other countries, especially their Southeast Asian counterparts, in terms of academic performance. 

The implementation of distance learning has been widely criticized, as the country appears to be not fully prepared for it. This is evident in erroneous learning modules and teachers having difficulty coping with the new mode of instruction.

If the government decides to resume in-person classes in the middle of the pandemic, the lack of classrooms, nurses, and basic health facilities in the country's public schools remain a concern. –

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.