MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Education is planning to start the next school year on August 23, shortening students' break to 6 weeks from the usual 2 months, an official said Tuesday.
"Ang napag-usapan natin ay July 10 matatapos at kung hindi mabago, August 23 magbubukas [ang next school year]. So halos 6 na linggo 'yong break sa pagitan ng 2 school year," Education Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio said in an interview.
(What we talked about is to open the next school year on August 23 if the current school year ends by July 10. So there's a 6-week break in between school years.)
"Parang 2 weeks lang naman shorter [sa] dating 2 months kasi pandemya naman. Sana hindi na siya mahirap para sa marami," he added.
(It's 2 weeks shorter from the 2-month break because there's a pandemic. Hopefully it won't be difficult for many.)
San Antonio said the department was also preparing for an "ideal scenario" next school year, where limited in-person classes would complement distance learning modalities.
"Iyong ideal scenario namin, papayagan na ang mga bata na magpunta sa school, kahit paminsan-minsan. May pinaghahandaan din kaming stratehiya para diyan," he said.
(Our ideal scenario is children would be allowed to go to school every once in a while. We are preparing strategies for that.)
The education official also assured the public that the DepEd would be more "responsive" should learning continue through completely remote means next school year.
"At least iyong mga mali-maling learning resources, naayos na natin. Iyong mga learning resources, nandiyan na so hindi na kasing hirap," San Antonio said.
(At least we've corrected our learning resources that contain errors. The learning resources are already there so it won't be difficult.)
"Dahil may karanasan na rin sa pagsasagawa nito (distance learning) ngayong pasukan, makakagawa na rin ang mga kasamang guro natin at mga principal ng mas mainam na paraan para ang mga bata ay hindi masyadong mahirapan," he said.
(Because our fellow teachers and principals have experience with distance learning, they will be able to find ways for children to not have a hard time.)
In response to the DepEd's plan, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) urged the agency to give "due consideration to the well-being of both teachers and students."
The group reminded the DepEd that the current school year already required teachers to render 77 more working days than the mandated 220 days in a school calendar.
"DepEd has yet to provide answers on how it plans to grant teachers their rightful leave benefits and overtime pay, and it's already presenting another problem," it said in a statement.
"Pushing our teachers beyond their limits could prove to be counterproductive to achieving our goals as it can lead to the undoing of the very backbone of education continuity," the teachers' union said.
San Antonio said the DepEd is also set to release guidelines in conducting graduation rites for School Year 2020 to 2021.
"Tungkol sa face-to-face graduation, ang tingin ko hindi pa rin [papayagan]. Pero virtual, payag," he said.
(I think face-to-face graduation will not be authorized but virtual graduation will be allowed.)
"At the end of the day, ang tatanungin nila kung gusto nilang gawin iyon, compliant ba 'yan sa IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) guidelines," he said, referring to the inter-government agency body that manages the country's pandemic response.
(At the end of the day, the question is if their graduation ceremonies are compliant with IATF guidelines.)
He added that the DepEd would respect how private schools would conduct graduation rites as long as they are in accordance with IATF guidelines.
Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines Executive Director Jose Allan Arellano said private institutions are in talks with local DepEd offices in organizing "graduations according to their lockdown status."
"Most of those who gave feedback to us are doing virtual graduation to avoid gatherings," Arellano said in a text message.
Classes in Philippine schools usually start in June but it was moved to October 5 last year to give more time for the country's education system to shift to distance learning, which was implemented after in-person classes were banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
School Year 2020 to 2021 was supposed to end on June 11, 2021 but it was moved to July 10 to address learning gaps.
A new law signed by President Duterete last year allows the chief executive to adjust the opening of classes during a state of emergency or calamity.