Groups urge gov’t: Ensure safety in return to full in-person classes

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 06 2022 02:22 PM | Updated as of Jul 06 2022 05:59 PM

A teacher keeps watch on her Grade 3 students as they fall in line to maintain physical distancing before being taken outside after limited face-to-face classes as a maintenance worker disinfects a classroom at Kapt. Jose Cardones Integrated School in Taguig City on March 9, 2022. ABS-CBN News/File
A teacher keeps watch on her Grade 3 students as they fall in line to maintain physical distancing before being taken outside after limited face-to-face classes as a maintenance worker disinfects a classroom at Kapt. Jose Cardones Integrated School in Taguig City on March 9, 2022. ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (UPDATE) — The government must provide additional funding to schools and ensure safety against the persisting threat of COVID-19 as it moved to resume in-person classes at full capacity by November, several groups said Wednesday.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) called on the government to double schools’ maintenance and operating budget so they could prepare classrooms, install handwashing facilities, and provide adequate supplies and equipment for school clinics in anticipation for the planned return to full physical classes. 

“It would be hard for students, teachers and parents to all go to school and encounter another surge of COVID-19, so we need to be careful and prepared,” ACT Chairperson Vladimer Quetua said in a statement.

ACT cited a survey by the Movement for Safe, Equitable, Quality, and Relevant Education, which suggested that government funding for in-person classes has so far been “insufficient,” compelling many teachers to spend from their own pockets in order to prepare for the safe reopening of schools.

Quetua also suggested the hiring of more teachers to cater to an “ideal class size [with a] maximum of 35 students,” nurses and other school personnel. School workers should also be ensured of health protection and benefits, he added.

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), in a separate statement, made the same recommendations.

“We need to ensure that our learners and teachers are safe, and it would require several adjustments especially in class size and physical facilities,” said TDC Chairperson Benjo Basas, who is hoping to hold a dialogue with Education Secretary Sara Duterte.

“Definitely we'll be needing more classrooms and more teachers to effectively handle the delivery of education service, post pandemic,” he added. 

A parents’ group, meanwhile, expressed doubts over the plans for full in-person classes, arguing that the recent rise in COVID-19 cases may happen again in November.

Due to the threat of the virus, the National Parents-Teacher Association Federation wants all students, teachers and school administrators to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campuses, said its secretary general Lito Senieto.

The Department of Education (DepEd) does not require COVID-19 vaccination for students who want to attend face-to-face classes but teachers are obligated to get inoculated if they want to physically report to schools.

Senieto said schools must also have isolation facilities and nurses to look after sick students.

“Sa kasalukuyan kasi ngayon ang nangyayari, mayroon tayong isang room… na itinalaga as clinic. But the clinic is walang nagmamanman, lalo na sa public [school],” he told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.

(Currently, we have a room… designated as a clinic. But no one is manning those clinics, especially in public schools.)

“Sana po ‘pag ito’y 100 percent [face-to-face classes], mayroon nang nurse saka may clinic sa school na ready,” he added.

(We hope that when we go back to 100-percent face-to-face classes, we are ready with school nurses and clinics.)

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PRIVATE SCHOOLS 

Private school groups also asked DepEd to “simplify” the process that allowed them hold physical classes.

“Kung lahat ng private schools… dadaan sa ganoong proseso na magsa-submit at mag-a-apply sa regional offices ng DepEd at iche-check ang lahat ng paper requirements, baka talagang tayo ay abutin ng napakatagal na panahon,” said Joseph Noel Estrada, managing director of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines.

(If all private schools… would have to undergo the process of submitting and applying for in-person classes with DepEd’s regional offices, the paper requirements have to be checked, it would probably take a really long time.)

“Baka naman pagdating sa private school, makahirit o makalambing kami nang kaunti sa ating… nakaupong secretary ngayon [na] si Inday Sara, na medyo ‘wag namang ganoong katitindi ang hinhingi,” said Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators President Eleazardo Kasilag.

(Perhaps when it comes to private schools, we can appeal to our new secretary Inday Sara to ease the requirements.)

Senate Basic Education Committee chairman Sherwin Gatchalian said “we cannot postpone face-to-face classes anymore” because prolonged school closures could worsen learning poverty or the inability of a child to “read and understand a simple text by age 10.”

A World Bank report in 2021 found that the Philippines had a 90-percent learning poverty, meaning 9 in 10 Filipino children aged 10 cannot read.

Gatchalian added that in-person classes have “economic benefits,” bringing profit to eateries near schools and those operating school buses.

The reactions came a day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that the government planned to resume in-person classes at full capacity by November this year. 

In a press briefing, Marcos said the DepEd would begin the gradual return to full in-person classes in September, weeks after the scheduled start of School Year 2022-2023, until “100-percent” attendance is reached after 2 months.

Authorities will be "encouraging" booster shots "especially for younger people because again we have to be concerned about their return to school," said Marcos. 

"That’s the general policy. We will reinstitute again the vaccination drive so that we can at least feel safer when the children go back to school," he said. 

The DepEd has not released a statement on the development, but Duterte’s spokesperson said late Tuesday a department order on the matter would be issued.

In-person classes in basic education resumed in late 2021 in nearly 300 “pilot” schools. Last February, the DepEd kicked off an “expansion,” allowing more schools to hold physical classes.

As of June 16, 32,787 or 72.66 percent of public schools in the country have started conducting face-to-face classes, DepEd data showed. 

Meanwhile, 1,063 private schools are implementing in-person classes, equivalent to only 8.60 percent of the total number.

Earlier this year, a report from the United Nation’s education agency found that COVID-19-related school closures have exacerbated learning poverty and “deepened education inequality.”

— With reports from Benise Balaoing and Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News