MANILA — Local government units should be allowed to decide if in-person classes can resume in their areas, education advocates said Monday as they continued to push for the safe reopening of schools more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resumption of face-to-face classes in the country should not be a "one-size-fits-all solution" since there are areas with little to zero COVID-19 cases, said Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) Chairman Ramon del Rosario Jr.
"Why not start, at the very least, with opening up face-to-face classes more aggressively in those areas?" Del Rosario said in a press briefing.
PBEd President Chito Salazar said the national government should "decentralize" decision-making on education matters given that the COVID-19 situation varies in every locality.
"The situations and conditions on the ground are different, depending on the province, municipality, town... We should empower the local governments to make decisions regarding the opening of classes and how they should be run depending on their context," Salazar said.
"In a pandemic where travel, communications and all of these things are restricted, it gets even more difficult for the central government to make decisions for the entire country in a timely and appropriate fashion," he said.
Salazar likened the reopening of schools to the COVID-19 vaccination program, which relied heavily on local governments for implementation.
"So just like [how] the vaccinations have really depended a lot on the success of the local side, I actually would encourage that the local governments play a larger role in the delivery of education especially at these times," he said.
Salazar added that the national government can "monitor standards and demand standards, and manage the budget and send money to places that need resources more than others."
"But the actual delivery, I think the local governments seem to take more responsibility," he said.
Former Sarangani governor Miguel Dominguez agreed with the PBEd's position, noting that he had been approached by mayors in Mindanao who "have been pushing for face-to-face classes, especially in areas (with) almost little or zero cases."
"I think the best person to decide would be your local mayor together with your school divisions superintendent," Dominguez said in the same press conference.
Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated that he would not allow the resumption of face-to-face classes until the country has reached herd immunity against COVID-19.
In recent months, various groups — including PBEd, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and United Nations Children’s Fund — have urged government to safely reopen schools.
PBEd, in an earlier statement, warned that prolonged school closures would worsen learning losses and students' earning prospects, which would later impact the economy.
The Department of Education planned to hold a dry run of limited face-to-face classes in select areas earlier this year but Duterte cancelled this over fears of more infectious variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
School Year 2020-2021 was carried out entirely through distance learning but some teachers, parents and students have complained of the challenges they experienced with the new modes of instruction, such as difficulty in independent learning and uneven access to technology.