MANILA — An official from the Department of Education clarified Tuesday that his statement on the conduct of 8-hour online classes was merely a suggestion and not yet a policy, following criticisms from a teachers' group.
"That is just one idea that can be considered," Jesus Mateo, undersecretary for planning service and field operations, told ABS-CBN News.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on Monday, Mateo said students may spend up to 7 to 8 hours studying at home or attending online classes, as an adjustment to the new academic calendar, scheduled to start on October 5 and end on June 16, 2021.
"Instead of 6 hour[s], it can be extended to up to 7 to 8 hours in a day, just so we can extend the number of hours or the delivery of the minimum essential learning competencies," Mateo said, referring to the streamlined basic education curriculum which will also be rolled out this year.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers criticized Mateo's pronouncement, calling it "inhumane" and "harmful" to the well-being of learners and teachers.
But Diosdado San Antonio, undersecretary for curriculum and instruction, said the time spent learning at home may be from 3.5 to 6 hours per day, depending on grade level.
This, he said, was similar to the class hours before the pandemic.
"We expect same time to be spent for any distance learning delivery modality... Flexibility is allowed," said San Antonio.
Child development specialist Sheila Marie "Shake" Hocson said it was not advisable for children to spend long hours in front of the monitor.
Children aged 2 to 12, for instance, are only allowed an hour of screen time, she said.
"It won't really be somewhat advisable. So, mas maganda, may healthy breaks talaga sila. Hindi talaga puwedeng dere-deretso kasi ang attention span ng bata ay maikli lang din," said Hocson, also the guidance director at Far Eastern University.
(It won't really be somewhat advisable so it's better for children to really have healthy breaks. They can't study for consecutive hours because children have short attention span.)
Children may strain their eyes and will not be able to fully absorb lessons with the long hours, she said.
Hocson said learning at home should be both synchronous, such as in online classes where students engage in learning at the same time, and asynchronous, where students are given more time to self-study.
In the coming school year, most students will be learning at home through printed and digital modules, online classes, television and radio as in-person classes remain prohibited due to the threat of COVID-19.
President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed the resumption of limited face-to-face classes next year on the assumption that a COVID-19 vaccine would be available by then.