A rare consensus among experts from different disciplines point to the protracted suspension of classes, followed by the restrictions on face-to-face (F2F) instruction, as the biggest blow inflicted by the pandemic on education and society. The public agrees with the experts. Everyone wants the resumption of F2F instruction at the soonest possible time. No one wants or needs it more badly than the poorest families who have maintained the abiding faith in education as the “great equalizer” that will enable their children to escape the poverty trap.
Children have better learning prospects when parents are involved in their education. But the poor must look to the government to educate their children. If they are not literate themselves, they cannot help their children learn to read, much less to cope with the different, progressively more difficult subjects in the curriculum. They also tend to have more children requiring attention. Even if they had the ability and will, their available time must go to the more urgent task of providing shelter and food for the family. Whatever its limitations, Department of Education (DepEd) schools at least assume responsibility for the children for a portion of the day and permit their parents to earn a living.
Since no one disputes the importance of resuming regular F2F instruction, why make an issue of a mandatory requirement for all schools to reopen for in-person classes by a certain fixed date? Especially when the government is also relaxing precautionary measures against the pandemic, such as the waiver of the requirement for the vaccination of schoolchildren and the dispensation of the rule on social distancing in the classroom.
Regardless of their concerns about education, parents will still give priority to life over learning. If they fear that school attendance will mean severe risks of COVID infection, they will keep their children at home. Parents also have to worry about dealing with the potential costs of medical treatment for their children and themselves, which most of them are unprepared to bear. This is also the concern of teachers, most of whom prefer F2F education. Should parents make the understandable decision to keep their children at home because of health concerns, what would DepEd do? Punish the parents? Or the children?
From statements by DepEd and other government officials, whatever date the agency prescribes for F2F classes cannot be cast in concrete. The date must still be subject to confirmation by health authorities that the pandemic is under control. Since this assessment will likely be made on an area-by-area basis, we can also expect the local government authorities, presumably with more grounded information on health conditions, as well as the concerns of their parents and teachers, to have a better basis for deciding on the issue.
The pandemic has proven the futility of one-size-fits-all policy prescriptions. People respond differently to the virus; different areas have better protection or more resources to deal with the infection. Not all schools require the same level of precautionary measures. Having declared its resolve to restore “normal class conditions,” DepEd could have indicated a date during which it expects most schools to reopen, while empowering local authorities to determine the extent to which it will implement F2F instruction.
Why the mandatory requirement for in-person classes should apply to all private schools, which account for less than 15 percent of elementary education enrollment, also needs explanation. Children in preschool and up to Grade 3 doubtless need mainly in-person classes. Private schools that have responded best to the pandemic challenge have discovered that a blended system may work better for older students—even apart from the savings in time and money for those who have to struggle with inadequate public transportation facilities to get to school.
Some schools have invested in the acquisition of online learning resources, the development of curricula and pedagogy, and teacher training for blended education. Why should they be prohibited from building on their investments to deliver a better system to their students? DepEd must establish some checks on the academic performance of hybrid systems. But education’s “new normal” apparently need not require universal, daily campus attendance at all levels for F2F instruction.
Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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