education in the Philippines

Reverting opening of classes to June – is it a good or a bad idea?

Jezreel Ines

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Reverting opening of classes to June – is it a good or a bad idea?
ACT Chairperson Vlademir Quetua emphasizes that the school year's start date, be it August or June, won't shield students from extreme weather events

MANILA, Philippines – Just days into the new school year, students and teachers in the country were greeted with class suspensions due to the recent onslaught of Super Typhoon Goring (Saola) and severe Tropical Storm Hanna (Haikui).

As PAGASA expects about six to 10 more typhoons this year, Senate Committee on Basic Education Chairman Sherwin Gatchalian, during a Senate hearing, urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to move class opening back to June from the current August. 

“The weather alone – there are more issues of tropical cyclones, rains, [and it is] very difficult to move around because of the rains. I think that presentation [by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration or PAGASA] is telling us that it’s much more complicated for our learners to go out of their homes when the rainy season arrives,”  he said.

Gatchalian added that the pre-pandemic school calendar is a more favorable option due to its alignment with the traditional learning patterns of the students. The proposition was met with a consensus among various stakeholders present at the hearing.   

Nevertheless, DepEd indicated that the possibility of resuming classes in June may not be feasible for the next three to five school years.

With worsening weather events, this means that students, parents, and teachers will still have to confront the challenges posed by the present calendar.

Too hot to go to school, health risk

Traditionally and as mandated by law, the school year typically begins on the first Monday of June but no later than the final day of August, concluding in March. 

However, due to the impact of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, in 2020, the government initially postponed the start of the school year to August and later extended it to October.

Since then, the academic year has begun in August, resulting in students now being in school in the months April to May – a time that used to serve as their summer vacation or break in the previous school calendar, and a period when high temperatures are often recorded.

Grade 12 student Jobyrema Bereber, 16, recalled the difficulty of learning under scorching heat early this year.

Nahirapan kami sa init talaga, iyon ang problema. Nag-aagawan kami sa pamaypay, sa electric fan na minsan nakatutok pa sa mga teacher lang,” Bereber said.

(We really struggled with the heat, that was the problem. We were fighting over the hand fans, and sometimes, even the electric fans only served the teachers.)

Bereber said this situation distracted her, leading to a decline in her academic performance during those hot months.

Nahihirapan kami mag-focus kasi habang nagsusulat ka, kailangan mo rin magpaypay kasi sobrang init talaga. Minsan sa sobrang init nahihilo na ako, minsan hindi na po ako pumapasok,” she explained.

(We find it hard to focus because while you’re writing, you also need to fan yourself because it’s really hot. Sometimes, it gets so hot that I feel dizzy. Sometimes I just don’t go to school.)

Parents are also experiencing this challenging situation, which is the case for individuals like Alexa Agbayani, 28, who did not anticipate this schooling arrangement for her two children.

Agbayani said that the scorching heat during the months of March to May make her worry about the safety and well-being of her children as they walk to school in the blistering heat.

Bukod sa epekto sa kanilang pag-aaral, natatakot din ako sa epekto nito sa health nila kasi napakainit at may mga nababalitang sinusugod sa ospital kasi sobra talaga ang init,” she said. 

(Aside from its impact on their studies, I am also concerned about its effect on their health because it’s scorching hot, and there are reports of people being rushed to the hospital due to extreme heat.)

Flerida Orian, a public elementary school teacher, said the scorching heat also affected her classes and how her students – many of whom found it challenging to learn in the sweltering classrooms – experienced a drop in their academic performance.

Naranasan namin na marami sa mga mag-aaral namin ay hindi nakakapasok nang regular sa buwan ng April at May. Hindi naman din naging epektibong alternatibo ang ipinatupad na shortened period at blended learning sa panahon ng kasukdulan ng taas ng temperatura noong summer dahil lalo lamang napaikli nito ang contact time between teachers and learners o tinatawag na teaching-learning period. Mainam pa rin na face-to-face,” she said.

(We observed that numerous students couldn’t attend classes regularly in April and May. The shortened and blended learning periods during the scorching summer were not effective alternatives as they reduced the contact time between teachers and learners. Face-to-face interaction is still preferable.)

In the Senate hearing, PAGASA said that there is an increasing intensity of weather extremes in the country.

“In April, we start experiencing a heat index of 41-42 degrees Celsius. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are more likely, and with continued exposure, the risk of heat stroke becomes even higher,” said Rosalina de Guzman, PAGASA assistant weather services chief.

Heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature.

Over the past five years, the Philippines has experienced its highest average monthly heat index during the months of April, May, and June. During this period, the recorded maximum average felt temperature reached up to 38 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, throughout the years 1948 to 2022, the country experienced an average of two to three tropical cyclones during the months of August, September, and October within its designated Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR).

De Guzman noted the benefits of the new school calendar in the context of the weather patterns in the country:

  • Fewer school days coincided with the rainy season, resulting in a decreased number of school days with extreme rainfall
  • There is reduced cancellation of classes related to tropical cyclones

Meanwhile, given the current school calendar, the assistant weather services chief said:

  • There will be more scorching school days
  • There is a high potential for graduation day to coincide with the rainy season
  • There is an increased likelihood of academic breaks being affected by tropical cyclones

“However, we can only recommend these findings to DepEd; it’s their responsibility to decide how to act on them regarding the school calendar,” De Guzman said in a phone interview.

June opening, not feasible ‘for now’

In July, a Pulse Asia survey commissioned by Gatchalian showed that 8 out of 10 Filipinos want “summer” breaks brought back to April and May.

“If we have classes during summer, the students will feel this increase in extreme heat and that is also a risk for their health – not just for our students but also for our teachers because they have to go to school throughout the day,” Gatchalian said in an interview with Rappler.

In April, multiple cases of schools canceling classes were reported, attributed to the extreme heat, resulting in some students being sent to clinics and experiencing nosebleeds.

In response to calls to revert to a June school opening, DepEd Assistant Secretary on Operations Francis Cesar Bringas said the department conducted an internal study in April to explore the potential shift from an August start date.

Their initial recommendation was that an immediate return to a June school opening is not feasible due to several factors. These include the potential reduction in vacation days for both teachers and students, and the need to adjust the school calendar days.

“They (teachers) are entitled to a two-month vacation because it is covered by their proportional vacation pay. If we shorten that, we will have to provide teachers with overtime pay, which is currently not included in the department’s budget,” Bringas told Rappler. “Our position is that if we were to return to June, it wouldn’t be done abruptly; instead, it would be on a phased and gradual basis,” Bringas added.

ACT Philippines chairperson Valentin Quetua emphasized that DepEd should not stretch the school calendar too much to quickly return to a June start within the next two to three sch ool years.

“We told DepEd not to extend it to 220 days, and that the minimum should be 185 days. The remaining days out of the 220 are intended as buffer days for events like typhoons and the like,” Quetua said.

Addressing old problems

However, Quetua asserted that whether the school year starts in August or June, students may not be shielded from extreme weather conditions, given the observed impacts of climate change.

He emphasized that without addressing the fundamental issues within the education system, students will undoubtedly face significant challenges in their education.

“The issue of resuming classes in June is a topic of discussion. However, whether it happens or not, the real problems lie in classroom shortages, teachers, school facilities, and health facilities. This will become an even more significant issue for students and teachers during the summer,” Quetua said in Filipino.

Parents like Agbayani hope that the government would focus more on the urgent needs of students and not prioritize other matters that are less pressing.

Sobrang tagal ng limang taon. Sana pag-isipan ng gobyerno na paglaanan nang maayos ang pag-aaral ng mga bata. Summer man o rainy days, dapat komportable ang bata sa classroom hindi iyong kung ano-ano ang iniisip nilang gawing mga patakaran na hindi naman kailangan,” she said.

(Five years is such a long time. Hopefully, the government will consider allocating resources to ensure that children’s education proceeds smoothly. Whether it’s summer or rainy days, children should feel comfortable in the classroom, instead of them constantly devising unnecessary policies.) –

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Jezreel Ines

Jezreel is a researcher-writer at Rappler mainly focused on governance and social issues.