MANILA (UPDATE) — Students of Parañaque National High School began arriving on campus as early as 4 a.m. for the first day of the new school year on Monday, out of excitement and in order to avoid heavy traffic.
Some students like Divine Grace Abad were anxious to physically return to school following two years of remote and blended learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Sobrang excited na may halong kaba kasi sobrang tagal na noong huling face-to-face [classes]," Abad told ABS-CBN News.
(I am very excited and a bit nervous because it has been so long since the last face-to-face classes.)
Abad is among the 17,000 students of Parañaque National High School, which has one of the largest student populations in Asia.
Before the pandemic, each classroom catered to about 60 students, but this was halved for School Year 2022-2023, with each class divided into two sets.
One set will hold in-person classes from Mondays to Wednesdays, and online classes on Thursdays and Fridays. The other group, meanwhile, will study remotely during the first 3 days of the week and attend physical classes on the remaining 2 days.
The setup was intended to ease overcrowding in classrooms, ensuring that the school can follow health protocols as the COVID-19 pandemic continued and more schools resumed in-person classes.
Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte had ordered all schools to shift to five days of in-person classes by November.
But in a press conference last Friday, Department of Education (DepEd) Spokesperson Michael Poa said 24,175 or 46 percent of schools nationwide would already implement full in-person classes starting Monday.
Meanwhile, 29,721 or 51.8 percent will still conduct blended learning, a mix of classroom sessions and blended learning methods such as online classes and modules.
Only 1,004 or 1.29 percent of schools will implement full distance learning, Poa said.
Schools implementing classroom sessions enforced tighter health protocols as they welcomed students.
In Dinalupihan Elementary School in Bataan, footbaths, alcohol stations and temperature-checking devices were stationed outside each classroom, which caters to up to 45 students.
In Pasig, Pinagbuhatan Elementary School, which has 4,162 students, assigned each grade level to use specific gates to avoid overcrowding as they enter the campus.
CONGESTION STILL A PROBLEM
Caloocan's Camarin High School also divided students into shifts, checked their temperature upon entry, and reminded them to practice physical distancing.
Principal Ferdinand de Leon, whose school has the largest student population in the city, admitted that classroom congestion and scarce learning materials remain a challenge.
Teachers' Dignity Coalition chairperson Benjo Basas agreed with De Leon.
"Kulang talaga tayo ng classroom sa ngayon at hindi natin ma-impose ang physical distancing ng mga bata. Kulang rin ang mga upuan," he told reporters in a text message.
(We still lack classrooms until now and we cannot impose physical distancing on our children. We also lack chairs.)
"Generally, despite po our reservations and protests, ang teachers po natin ay optimistic that this school year will be a whole lot better kaya naman may enthusiasm pa rin kami kahit walang naging pahinga," he said.
(Generally, despite our reservations and protests, our teachers are optimistic that this school year will be a whole lot better that's why we're still enthusiastic even though we don't have enough rest.)
The DepEd reported as of Monday morning, 28,035,042 students have enrolled for School Year 2022-2023, still short of its target of 28.6 million.
In a statement, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. said he welcomed the "return of our children to full face-to-face classes after two years of online learning due to the pandemic."
"It has always been my belief that learning will be more effective inside classrooms where students fully interact with their teachers and fellow students," he said, reminding both educators and learners to observe health protocols.
Education experts have seen the resumption of in-person classes as a way to address learning losses and poverty, which were exacerbated by school closures due to the pandemic.
A recent World Bank report found that the learning poverty rate in the Philippines reached 91 percent, meaning 9 out of 10 Filipino children still struggle to read simple texts at age 10.
— With reports from Joyce Balancio, Jaehwa Bernardo, Raffy Cabristante, Jose Carretero, Larize Lee and Raffy Santos, ABS-CBN News