MANILA — Several senators on Wednesday expressed support for plans to conduct a dry run of limited face-to-face or in-person classes in very few schools in the country, even as President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the proposal due the continued threat of COVID-19.
At a Senate hearing, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said there was a need to conduct a pilot implementation so the Department of Education (DepEd) would be prepared in case the government allows the resumption of physical classes.
“Importante mayroon tayong karanasan (What’s important is we have the experience)… We need the experience now, we need the lessons drawn now,” said Pangilinan, who suggested conducting the dry run in at least 100 schools.
The DepEd was initially considering to include 1,065 schools in the pilot study, which Duterte rejected.
“Hindi naman po ibig sabihin na kinancel iyong ating face-to-face, titigil na rin tayo sa pilot schools. This is a good way for our scientists to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of COVID,” said Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate committee on basic education.
(Just because we cancelled face-to-face classes, doesn’t mean we’ll stop holding a pilot study in schools. This is a good way for our scientists to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of COVID.)
Earlier this week, Malacañang announced that Duterte rejected the DepEd’s plans to hold a dry run for limited face-to-face classes because the country had yet to roll out its COVID-19 vaccination program.
The government was supposed to conduct a dry run last January but Duterte cancelled it, citing concerns over a more infectious variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19.
Sen. Nancy Binay suggested that the DepEd lacked “persuasive powers” in pushing for limited face-to-face classes, especially since the government already allowed arcades to reopen and children from some areas to visit malls.
“Mga kabataan puwede na sa arcade, puwede na sa malls pero hindi puwede bumalik sa classrooms with a limited number of students (Children are allowed in arcades and malls but are not allowed to return to classrooms with limited number of students),” Binay said.
“Hinayang na hinayang ako (na hindi natuloy face-to-face classes). Karapat-dapat lang na magbukas ang mga eskwelahan,” Sen. Imee Marcos added.
(I find it so regretful that we’re not allowed to have face-to-face classes. We should reopen our schools.)
The senators asked Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan, who was at the hearing, to present a more detailed proposal on the dry run for limited in-person classes.
Malaluan said he would raise the senators’ concerns at a meeting of the DepEd’s executive committee later in the day.
The Philippines is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region which has maintained school closure for nearly the entire school year, said Isy Faingold, head of education work at the United Nations Children's Fund in the Philippines. Schools have shifted to remote learning because of the pandemic.
Other countries in the region have implemented either a full reopening or partial reopening to support other distance learning modalities, he said.
Meanwhile, Gatchalian also urged the DepEd to “lobby very hard” for the inclusion of teachers in the government’s list of priority sectors for its COVID-19 vaccination program.
Aside from DepEd, various groups, such as the Philippine Business for Education and Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), are also pushing for the safe reopening of schools and resumption of in-person classes.
— With a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News