MANILA (UPDATED) - The Senate on Tuesday adopted a resolution recommending the conduct of face-to-face classes in areas where there are few or zero COVID-19 cases.
"As education is the key to any country's success, we can no longer allow Filipino learners to be left behind, and we must be willing to take the first brave step of immediately launching the pilot testing of localized limited face-to-face classes...," read Resolution No. 92, which merged two related measures - Resolution Nos. 663 and 668 - filed by different senators.
The adopted resolution recommends the holding of said activity "in low risk areas as identified by the Department of Education under risk-based assessment, following stringent mitigation measures, strict health protocols, and guidelines of the Department of Health and of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases."
The dry-run will enable DepEd "to gather evidence on the ground and design a framework for the safe reopening of schools," it added.
"Distance learning has its advantages especially at a time of pandemic where health and safety are of utmost priority. However, face-to-face learning remains a necessity for education. This was also the recommendation of our very own Secretary Leonor Briones last December," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in his sponsorship speech for SRN 663.
"We need to get back on track, not only for our economy but also for our education system," he said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, main sponsor of SRN 668, said in a speech Monday that amid the implementation of distance learning through the distribution of modules and holding of online classes as part of safety measures, a deterioration in the capabilities of learners has been observed.
“The inescapable conclusion drawn from the data is that as many as 25 million Filipino learners enrolled in the basic education system are being left behind by their learner peers throughout the region and across the world," said Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Basic Education.
"After all, the preliminary assessment of the committee is that blended learning under the Basic Education- Learning Continuity Program of the DepEd has failed to provide a stable and passable level of educational quality, despite the best efforts of our students, teachers, and parents during these unprecedented times,” he said.
“Keeping Filipino learners up to par with international standards of academic achievement and personal development would require the gradual reimplementation of face-to- face classes in relatively low-risk COVID areas pursuant to stringent public health, hygiene, and sanitary policies and protocols."
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the students now "may end up as the 'lost generation' if the return to normalcy will be 'slowed down by vaccine shortage, and if we fail to adjust to and invest in new learning modes."
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly not allowed the holding of pilot testing of in-person classes, saying "I am not ready to lose the lives of our young people."
SRN 92 noted that at a hearing last month, it was found out that there are 1,065 schools that are projected to participate in the pilot study for localized limited face-to-face classes, representing 2.2 percent of all public schools nationwide.
A resolution simply expresses a legislative chamber's opinion on an issue, and is not presented to the President for action.
"More than 50 percent" of students were in favor of attending in-person classes, Briones earlier said, citing a DepEd survey.
A "significant portion" of teachers also want to hold limited in-person classes while parents remain undecided on the matter, she said, noting that prolonged school closures may have an impact on the psychosocial welfare of students.
The Philippines is the lone Southeast Asian nation that has yet resume face-to-face classes about a year after the COVID-19 pandemic crippled public movement worldwide.