MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd) rejected Wednesday calls for an "academic freeze," saying the proposal does not consider the effects of prolonged interruption in the learning process of children.
Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said the call for "academic freeze" was an unpopular position considering that over 24 million students have enrolled for the coming school year, where they will learn through distance learning modalities.
"We believe that this call for academic freeze is a populist position that is not popular, because we already have the support of as many as 24 million learners and their parents who have enrolled and are ready to participate in distance learning," Malaluan said in a virtual press briefing.
"This position is also a short-sighted position. It does not take into consideration the trade-off of prolonged interruption in the learning process of the children," he added.
Malaluan called the proposal "ill-informed" as he reiterated that online classes would not be the sole distance learning modality to be implemented, contrary to arguments of the proponents.
Under DepEd's distance learning plans, learning will be delivered via printed and digital modules, online classes, television and radio.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said distance learning dry runs are underway in schools to ensure a smooth start to the school year on October 5.
"It's not as if biglaan na lang tayo magbukas ng ating mga eskuwelahan by October 5, dahil, more or less, alam na natin kung ano ang mga challenges at atin na itong tinugunan," she said.
(It's not as if we will suddenly open our schools by October 5, because, more or less, we know what the challenges are and we'd have addressed them by then.)
More than 31,000 schools have accomplished their dry runs before August, while 11,698 schools are set to hold simulations before classes start, according to DepEd data.
Social media was recently abuzz with calls for an "academic freeze," with the hashtag #AcademicFreezeNow topping the list of trending topics on Twitter Philippines.
A petition on Change.org also called for a halt to the start of the school year "until the digital divide is fully resolved or results of mass testing and curve-flattening are already evaluated empirically."
The petition, posted by a user with the handle "The Ruins" and addressed to the DepEd, argued that "not everybody has the means to adapt to the new normal type of schooling."
"Having online learning as an alternative to educate learners is proven to be uneffective and insufficient," it added.
The petition, which targets to get 300,000 signatures, has so far garnered more than 233,000 signatories.
Commission on Higher Education Chairman Prospero de Vera earlier said he would study the proposal for an "academic freeze" once the proponents produce data-based discussions and a legal basis.
"For example, how do they intend to subsidize private school operations for one year without classes? How much money is needed? How many schools will be affected? Where will the subsidy come from?" he told ABS-CBN News.
"Without data and concrete analysis, there is not much to discuss and decide on," he added.
The government has prohibited in-person classes in the country until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
The Philippines has confirmed 241,987 COVID-19 cases, as of Sept. 8, of which, 52,893 are active. Nearly 4,000 have succumbed to the disease.