Youth group urges Duterte to order 'academic freeze' until January 2021

As the country grapples with the pandemic, a youth group on Monday, August 31, urged President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an executive order (EO) that would initiate an "academic freeze" until January 2021 to give the government enough time to prepare for the shift to distance learning.

"All it takes is for Duterte to sign his name once, and millions of students and their parents will be alleviated from the burden of online classes until January," said John Lazaro, chairperson of activist organization Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK).

Lazaro said that Duterte "paid much lip service to the idea of postponing classes until a COVID-19 vaccine was found."

"He must put his pen where his mouth is, and act on it," he added.

SPARK staged a protest action on Monday in front of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) building in Quezon City to amplify its call for an "academic freeze," including the increase of capacities for distance learning of both students and teachers.

Asked what exactly the group was asking for, Lazaro told Rappler: "Further procurement of laptops for students and teachers, and public consultations on the composition of modules and broadcast content."

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')

This was not the first time that school opening has been moved this year. As COVID-19 cases continued to rise, the usual June opening of classes was first moved to August 24. But the almost two-month extension appeared to be inadequate for DepEd to transition to the overhauled education system, prompting a second postponement to October.

Meanwhile, colleges and universities are not covered by RA 11480, the law that moved the school opening for basic education students. (READ: Colleges, universities not covered by law that moved school opening – CHED)

CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III earlier said that a total of 731 colleges and universities have opened classes in August, while 186 more will open classes in September and October.

In July, De Vera said that schools were ready to open classes using the flexible learning approach.

According to De Vera, universities and colleges have the freedom to choose what mode would be effective for them. Some of them would be using pure online, pure modular, while others are combination of the two, De Vera said. (READ: FAST FACTS: CHED's flexible learning)

De Vera had proposed to move to the 2nd semester subjects that require the physical presence of students, which is expected to start on January 2021. –

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.