The Department of Education received around 16,000 reports about different concerns related to the opening of classes for public schools on Monday as old problems mixed with new challenges, Undersecretary Jess Mateo said.
As over 22 million public school students begin to venture into distance and blended learning, some were not able to join their virtual classes due to unreliable internet connectivity.
Online and modular learning are among the distance education modalities being implemented by DepEd this year as in-person classes remain suspended due to the threat of the coronavirus.
Still, President Rodrigo Duterte welcomed the school opening with no face-to-face classes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying nothing can get in the way of education for Filipino students.
During DepEd’s School Opening Day National Program, Mateo said most of the concerns were about enrollment, including the process and credentials for transferring a student from private to public school.
“We have gathered about 16,000 reports since we opened classes, and out of those, we have resolved close to 90%,” he said.
“Aside from the enrollment, the concerns were mostly about our learning continuity plan,” Mateo added.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the department will continue to monitor the situation in schools under the "new normal" and respond to the challenges that would arise.
“We monitor on a day-to-day basis. And if there are challenges that arise, we (will) make adjustments," Briones said during the virtual Laging Handa press briefing.
She added there will also be an assessment on the implementation of distance learning. “Whatever is the result of that assessment will always be made public,” she said.
Diosdado San Antonio, DepEd's undersecretary for curriculum and instruction, said the agency would also look at the best practices of schools in implementing distance learning so these could be shared with other institutions.
Aside from internet connectivity, some modules have yet to be claimed by parents, said DepEd Chief of Staff Nepomuceno Malaluan, who was in Batangas to monitor the school opening.
Briones also said some students who have yet to receive their modules are late enrollees.
DepEd earlier said in the absence of modules, students may use other learning materials, as long as they are aligned with the revised curriculum.
In his message, Duterte commended the DepEd and its partners for guiding all stakeholders ahead of the opening of School Year 2020-2021.
The school year was supposed to start on Aug. 24 but was moved to Oct. 5 to allow the government to address "logistical limitations" faced by areas that were then placed under modified enhanced community quarantine and to “fill in the remaining gaps” in preparations.
“May this school year be marked with strong hopes and optimism that effective learning will take place even amidst the odds and challenges,” Duterte said.
Briones officially declared the opening of school year 2020-2021 and claimed a victory over the pandemic.
She said the country would not allow COVID-19 to destroy its children’s education and their future.
There will be no face-to-face classes and sessions will not be limited to online sessions alone, said the DepEd, which tapped television, radio, and modular systems to ensure the delivery of lessons.
Around 24.7 million students enrolled in public and private schools this school year, the DepEd said.
More than 61,000 schools offering K to 12 Basic Education Program reopened to serve about 24,753,906 learners—22,525,282 enrollees in public school and 2,173,969 enrollees in private schools.
Apart from pushing through amid a worldwide health crisis, the Department of Education considered the present school year historic as it is the first school year to open in October under Republic Act 11480, allowing the President to move the opening of classes due to a national emergency.
In her opening speech, Briones stressed the importance of continuing on with the education process despite the challenges faced by the country.
"Education cannot wait, our learners cannot wait. We continue with the process, so, we can give hope and continuity, and contribute to the normalization of activities in the country," Briones said in his speech during the opening program for the new school year.
To address the concerns of learners and their parents regarding the present school year, Mateo said the department's Oplan Balik Eskwela and Public Assistance Command Center at its central office have been open for four months since June.
During the first month, June, the highest number of issues was about enrollment, but as August approached, concerns focused on how online classes and blended learning would work, Mateo said.
He added that 90 percent of these concerns were resolved before the official opening of classes since DepEd has setup regional information offices nationwide.
DepEd Undersecretary for Field Operations Revsee Escobedo reported a total of 921,341,980 First Quarter Self-Learning Modules (SLMs) have been printed and 329,847,348 of them have been distributed as of Sunday.
"About 506,668 developed online materials and 3,716,813 online modules are ready for roll-out for the first quarter. These include digitized SLMs, e-books, online video lessons, and other materials available in the DepEd Commons," Escobedo said.
He added that some 6,795 radio-based instructions and 8,082 television-based instructions to be used for the first quarter of the school year have also been created in partnership with 258 radio stations and 255 television channels.
For this year, the school calendar started on Oct. 5 and would end on June 11, 2021.
On National Teachers' Day and the first day of classes, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro on Monday urged the Duterte administration to honor teachers with adequate funds for the safe reopening of schools.
"Our teachers have been at the forefront in ensuring the delivery of education to our youth amid the pandemic. Teachers are frontliners too," Castro said. "In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers look for funds to be able to still deliver their duties amid health risks and lack of funds from the government.”
Private school teachers have not been spared, Castro said, citing reports that almost 1,000 private schools have closed with at least 100,000 private school teachers affected by the pandemic.
“With the ongoing budget deliberations in Congress, we must ensure that adequate funds are allocated in critical inputs for education such as instructional materials, teaching expenses will be provided by the government and every child’s right to access to quality and safe education will be respected,” Castro added.
Castro said the DepEd’s proposed P554 billion budget for 2021 featured cuts in funds for instructional materials and allowances of teachers.
These items were insufficient before the pandemic, and they are more so now because of the need for more gadgets and equipment to adapt to the new online, modular, and blended modes of learning, Castro said.
ACT members held a lightning protest in Mendiola, Manila, on the first day of classes.
Teachers stood on the road observing physical distancing, carrying placards, including one that said “Don’t leave poor, rural children behind!”
The ACT members also honked their vehicles’ horns to call the attention of President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the education sector’s situation.
On Sunday, ACT Philippines secretary general Raymond Basilio said basic needs for blended learning such as printed modules were still not yet in place a day before classes were to start.
The DepEd said over the weekend it is ready for school opening and is ready for contingencies.
Also on Monday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian made the rounds in Valenzuela to inspect the city’s rollout of distance learning.
Gatchalian checked on how well the students are learning in the new normal while stuck at home and how distance learning is engaging parents.
For this school year, Valenzuela is rolling out the Valenzuela Live Online Streaming School, which uses Facebook Live to stream classes.
DepEd said about 59 percent of more than 22 million learners enrolled in public schools are using printed self-learning modules (SLMs).
As of Sept. 27, however, DepEd was still in a rush to complete the distribution of these SLMs, 80 percent of which have already been distributed.
Despite these challenges, Gatchalian praised teachers for being on the frontlines of ensuring the continuity of education as he urged DepEd to continue upholding their welfare.
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