‘UNTIL A VACCINE IS AVAILABLE’

DepEd postpones in-person classes

By: Matthew Reysio-Cruz - Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 09,2020 - 07:40 AM

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Education (DepEd) on Monday postponed in-person classes until a vaccine for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is developed, a move that effectively placed all its chips on an unprecedented distance learning plan that has been met with skepticism.

“We will comply with the President’s directive to postpone face-to-face classes until a vaccine is available,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in a statement. “We assure our parents, learners, stakeholders and the President that we are preparing ourselves for this mission.”

The remarks came on the heels of President Duterte’s televised address on June 5 in which he reiterated that the traditional classroom setup should be prohibited until a vaccine was ready. But he also questioned the country’s preparedness to implement alternative modes of learning.

“Briones is insisting that there is an alternative there. She has a very good program for that like teleconferencing,” Mr. Duterte said. “The technology is good. I don’t know if we are ready for that.”

This was the second time the President called for the indefinite postponement of in-person learning, even as the department left open the possibility of students and teachers meeting in areas less affected by the pandemic.

Forcing a delay until a vaccine is ready means there will likely be no traditional classes until 2021 at the earliest.

Online enrollment

Aside from online classes, distance learning includes alternatives like printed, self-taught modules and instruction delivered through television and radio. The DepEd has said it will give schools wide latitude to implement what they feel best suits the needs of their students.

This has not tempered skepticism from lawmakers who have questioned whether the country’s much-criticized internet connectivity could handle the scale of the proposed learning system.

The DepEd, however, said on Monday that the groundwork for blended learning was “well underway” and that teachers were being trained to use the new tools and platforms.

On June 1, the department began its first monthlong online enrollment, where face-to-face interaction is prohibited for at least the first two weeks of June. Parents were advised to wait for their children’s previous classroom advisers to contact them.

Latest data released by the DepEd showed 6.2 million students enrolled in public schools during the first week of the remote enrollment period. When classes started last school year, there were 23 million public school students in K-12 schools.

Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said they were “very happy” with the figures so far.

But it is unclear how COVID-19 will affect overall enrollment rates—parents could choose to sit out the academic year, but a mass transfer of private school students is also anticipated.

Tuition increase

At a Senate hearing on Monday, Commissioner Aldrin Darilag of the Commission on Higher Education said colleges and universities might have lower enrollment amid the pandemic, and this could lead to private higher education institutions increasing their tuition because of lower revenue.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), the country’s largest teachers’ union, raised concerns about the turnout of online enrollment because about half of the enrolling students so far are from the largely urbanized regions of Central Luzon, Calabarzon and Metro Manila.

“The enrollment data the DepEd brags about reveals an alarming reality—constituents in poorer and more remote rural areas have little to no access to remote modalities, indicating that millions of poor children in provinces will likely be left behind,” said ACT secretary-general Raymond Basilio.

“The new modalities can’t wholly replace face-to-face learning, especially given the country’s technological backwardness and widespread poverty,” he added. —With a report from Leila B. Salaverria

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