Metro Manila, Davao City, and Cotabato have begged off from the pilot runs of face-to-face classes in January 2021, the Department of Education said Wednesday.
The Metro Manila Council, consisting of the 17 mayors in the National Capital Region earlier said the area will not participate in the January dry run.
NCR is still under a general community quarantine (GCQ), eliminating it from the areas under consideration that should be under a modified GCQ.
Earlier, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations said schools were not prepared to conduct face-to-face classes this school year.
Still, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, citing what she called was a report by the United Children’s Fund (NICEF), said Wednesday students were more likely to contract COVID-19 at home than in school as the government prepares for the pilot of face-to-face classes in January.
Briones made the comment at the televised Laging Handa briefing, in reply to a question whether the test rehearsal could put students at risk of infection.
A total 1,114 schools have been recommended to take part in the pilot run, but the number could still go down after the evaluation, Briones said.
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte approved DepEd’s proposal to conduct face-to-face classes in areas with low COVID-19 risk in January 2021, his spokesperson Harry Roque said.
Early this month, UNICEF urged governments to “prioritize reopening schools and take all actions possible to make them as safe as possible” since a recent global study using data from 191 countries “showed no association between school status and COVID-19 infection rates in the community.”
Select schools in areas with low risk for COVID-19 transmission will hold face-to-face classes from January 11 to 23, 2021.
The dry run will be monitored by the DepEd and the COVID-19 National Task Force.
The government emphasized that face-to-face classes would be voluntary, thus a parent’s permit must be submitted for the student to participate.
The Department of Education (DepEd) earlier asked regional directors to recommend potential schools that can hold the dry run, Briones said in an interview on CNN Philippines.
However, Briones noted that these schools still have to be evaluated in terms of compliance with health protocols against the spread of COVID-19, and approval of parents and local government units, among others.
According to Briones, the number of nominated schools is expected to be “significantly reduced” after the evaluation.
The total number of public schools in the country is around 61,000, she said.
For Briones, the allowed capacity for classrooms could be possibly set at 50 percent or less.
Asked about if the DepEd is considering COVID-19 testing in the process, Briones said they would only conduct it on the advice of the Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force.
On Tuesday, DepEd Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla said the department already created a list of schools nominated for the dry run for the resumption of face-to-face classes.
However, Sevilla said DepEd will only share the list of nominated schools once they pass the ‘final terms’ as cleared by the Office of the President and the Inter-Agency Task Force.
In related developments:
* The National Economic and Development Authority is backing the conduct of face-to-face classes in areas with low risk of COVID-19, saying it can pave the way for further relaxation of the economy and allow those in lower age brackets to go out.
While NEDA backs the proposal, its chief Karl Kendrick Chua clarified that the agency relies on experts and other studies.
“What they are saying (is that) there is no replacement for face-to-face learning ‘cause it’s very difficult for the teachers to actually help the students,” he said.
Chua said that in the conduct of face-to-face learning the risks should be managed and health standards should be strictly enforced.
“As we open the economy, we manage the risk that will be the direction that we should be going,” Chua said.
* Sen. Nancy Binay said she shared the position of DepEd to conduct a dry run of face-to-face classes in select schools in areas with low-risk or zero-incidence of COVID-19 as long as strict health and safety protocols were implemented in school and community levels.
“We can take a look if we are capable of face-to-face classes even twice a week, even small class sizes in a covered court or in any safe and secured open space,” said Binay.
She suggested checking the best practices of the country’s ASEAN neighbors in opening their classes because “we can’t be forever in a lockdown and our kids inside our homes forever.
“I believe we really need to accept the fact that this is the new normal,” said Binay.
* Sen. Win Gatchalian described it as “very challenging” in delivering quality education using distance learning modality.
Right now, he said, the only choice was what is called the distance learning modality wherein the students are being given physical, self-learning modules, and the students are expected to learn by themselves.
“Personally, I have been getting a lot of calls from Mayors and principals, teachers, getting a lot of feedback and it’s very difficult because, still we have parents who did not graduate elementary or high school, we have parents who are not confident in tutoring their children and this presents a problem for the child because the child especially from kindergarten to grade three, this age level is where we need parent intervention but if the parents themselves are not confident to teach their children then this becomes a problem,” said Gatchalian.
* Senator Christopher Go expressed his reservations on the planned pilot testing of face-to-face classes by the Department of Education in areas that will be considered as low-risk for COVID-19 in January 2021.
Go said he still preferred the postponement of the conduct of face-to-face classes until vaccines proven safe and effective were available for the public.
“I believe personally, ‘no (safe) vaccine, no face-to-face classes.’ Because if there’s one positive, we’re back to square one, we’re back to zero again and new contact tracing,” he said.
Go is also skeptical that parents will consent to their children attending physical classes while an ongoing pandemic still exists in the country.
“Second,if they say the consent of parents is needed, do you see they will give their consent?” asked Go.
* House of Representatives’ Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro on Wednesday urged the Department of Education to set clear policies and specific guidelines during its pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes.
“As we recognize that the face-to-face classes remain to be the ideal conduct of learning, DepEd must implement strict policies and guidelines to guarantee that there will be no COVID-19 outbreak when face-to-face classes resumes,” Castro said.
Castro raised concerns on how the resumption of face-to-face classes would be conducted given the fact of shortages in facilities and teachers.
ACT said President Duterte must address first the lack of water supply, functional clinic and school nurse, and large class size in schools.
The group said there should be the prerequisites to the resumption of face-to-face classes, even in COVID low-risk areas and despite the pilot program being voluntary.
Raymond Basilio, ACT Secretary-General, said: ”We have had enough of government orders that were not partnered with sufficient funding and ample preparations, as what had happened with distance learning where teachers and learners were ultimately left to fund for the needs and fend for themselves.
“This should not happen again with face-to-face classes resumption as it poses clear and present danger to the health and lives of the stakeholders, as such, Duterte and education officials should stop issuing orders from their high tower and start doing their job.”
Basilio explained that low COVID-19 infection rate did not guarantee the safe return to schools especially that the probable areas were poor rural localities where school facilities were least ideal and personnel are most wanting.
He added that the national government should also take on bigger funding responsibilities for the needs of the schools in these areas as they have very limited special education funds which were taken from the localities’ real estate taxes.