With a year of distance and modular learning under their belt, students in public schools return to class today under a still-challenging setup, as the Philippines remains one of only two countries that has not conducted partial or full school reopening since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
As with last year, the Department of Education is counting on pupils’ parents to keep them focused on learning as the Duterte administration ponders on allowing pilot face-to-face classes during the year, which is slated for 209 school days and scheduled to end on June 24, 2022.
Latest DepEd data showed that nearly 22 million registered in basic education — including both public and private schools — this year, equivalent to only 83.6 percent of the 26.2 million students from the previous academic year, which saw around a million learners miss school.
But the DepEd is still expecting the enrollment numbers to go up, said Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan, who noted delays in the reporting of figures from schools and that the last day of regular enrollment is today, Monday.
With the theme “OBE 2021: Bayanihan para sa Ligtas na Balik Eskwela”, the DepEd will open the school year by highlighting key developments and updates for the safe return to schools.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is scheduled to give his message today to learners and teachers, while Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones is set to officially open SY 2021-2022 in the virtual National School Opening Day program.
But the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines declared that ‘grim’ prospects await millions of students and education workers on the re-opening of school, as 47,000 public schools remain closed and distance learning woes are still unresolved, the militant group said in a statement.
Private schools have already started classes, some as early as the first week of August, but face the same hurdles as their public-school brethren – the contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, a lack of reliable Internet connectivity, not enough computers and gadgets for learners to use, and the difficulty of getting and submitting learning modules on time for their school advisers to grade, to name a few.
Most public-school students do not have a computer or internet at home, leaving them unable to access online classes and lessons broadcast over social media. The government has tried to tap television and radio channels for learning, with mixed results.
The United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF has urged the Duterte administration and governments worldwide to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and to provide a comprehensive recovery response for students.
The pandemic lockdowns have affected the right to learn of more than 27 million Filipino students, said UNICEF, which is advocating for a phased reopening of schools, beginning in low-risk areas.
“This can be done on a voluntary basis with proper safety protocols in place,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
“In 2020, schools globally were fully closed for an average of 79 teaching days, while the Philippines has been closed for more than a year, forcing students to enroll in distance learning modalities,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov says.
“The associated consequences of school closures – learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of drop out, child labour, and child marriage – will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages,” Dendevnorov added.
Together with the World Bank and its sister organization UNESCO, UNICEF called for governments to focus on three key priorities for recovery in schools:
Targeted programmes to bring all children and youth back in school where they can access tailored services to meet their learning, health, psychosocial well-being, and other needs; Effective remedial learning to help students catch up on lost learning; and Support for teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching.
But Malaluan said Sunday the school opening is expected to run smoothly because it was not the first time that schools would be implementing distance learning.
“Last year was about dry runs, uncertainty, how the learning delivery will happen. But this year, our parents [and] teachers have had one year of experience about it,” Malaluan told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview.
Under distance education, students learn through printed and digital modules, classes that are conducted via videoconferencing and social media, and lessons that are aired over television and radio.
But Malaluan acknowledged there would still be challenges in terms of learning resources and “the ability of the teacher to have constant supervision of the learning process.”
“This is why the delivery of instruction at this time requires the support and collaboration of various units,” he said.
During the first week, teachers will organize students in their classes and determine which learning delivery modalities are best suited for them, Malaluan said.
“Usually, they (teachers) do Messenger groups with the parents and learners themselves. There are some that have already distributed the learning resources, but others will be doing it this week,” he said.
Briones added: “This school year, we would like to honor everyone who made learning continuity possible amidst the challenges of the pandemic. Our efforts throughout the year showed our deep understanding that education is our shared responsibility.”
The virtual program will also feature three panel discussions to be participated by DepEd officials, national government agencies representatives, and external partners, who will share relevant information related to the topics.
Malaluan added that enrollment figures in the Cagayan Valley and Caraga regions have exceeded their 2020 turnout, “indicating that some learners who skipped the last school year are now re-enrolling.”
The first year under distance learning proved taxing for many students, teachers, and parents, who struggled with access to devices and poor internet connectivity, and difficulty in studying the modules by themselves.
The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition questioned the DepEd’s readiness to open the school year, fearing that “the upcoming school year might be just a repeat of the previous one.”
“According to the reports we receive, many teachers are still waiting for the provided modules while others are doing their last-ditch effort of printing and reproduction using their own resources,” TDC Vice Chairperson Olivia de Guzman said.
Also, with the coronavirus threat still hanging over the country, Dagupan City Mayor Marc Brian Lim has decided to move the start of classes for this school year to October 4.
In an executive order published online, Lim said the Sept. 13 opening would be suspended.
The E.O. said this includes “all school activities which will require face-to-face interaction and/or mass gathering...However, school activities not requiring the physical presence and/or face-to-face interaction among the stakeholders may be permitted to proceed.”
It also said that schools previously allowed to open and have already started classes that do not require face-to-face interaction will not be covered.
The EO said the city government received a plea from a group of public school teachers for the postponement as teachers and personnel would risk exposure to the coronavirus.
“In view of the surge in cases, and the reclassification of quarantine status in Dagupan to general community quarantine, the city government issued several executive orders imposing stringent measures to arrest the surge in COVID-19 cases and give the medical facilities sufficient time to cope with the steep rise in the number of positive cases,” the order added.
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