MANILA (UPDATE) — Philippine public schools are set to welcome a new academic year on Monday, which will see millions of students still studying from their homes under a challenging distance learning setup as in-person classes remain banned while the country continues to face a surge in coronavirus infections.
Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said Sunday the school opening is expected to run smoothly because it was not the first time that schools would be implementing distance learning.
“Last year was about dry runs, uncertainty, how the learning delivery will happen. But this year, our parents [and] teachers have had one year of experience about it,” Malaluan said in a phone interview.
Under distance education, students learn through printed and digital modules, classes that are conducted via videoconferencing and social media, and lessons that are aired over television and radio.
Malaluan, however, acknowledged that there would still be challenges in terms of learning resources and “the ability of the teacher to have constant supervision of the learning process.”
“This is why the delivery of instruction at this time requires the support and collaboration of various units,” he said.
During the first week, teachers will organize students in their classes and determine which learning delivery modalities are best suited for them, according to Malaluan.
“Usually, they (teachers) do Messenger groups with the parents and learners themselves. There are some that have already distributed the learning resources but others will be doing it this week,” he said.
Latest data from the Department of Education (DepEd) showed that nearly 22 million registered in basic education — including both public and private schools — this year, equivalent to only 83.6 percent of the 26.2 million students from the previous academic year, which saw around a million learners miss school.
But the DepEd is still expecting the enrollment numbers to go up, said Malaluan, who noted delays in the reporting of figures from schools and that the last day of regular enrollment is on Monday.
Malaluan added that enrollment figures in the Cagayan Valley and Caraga regions have exceeded their 2020 turnout, “indicating that some learners who skipped the last school year are now re-enrolling.”
The first year under distance learning proved taxing for many students, teachers and parents, who struggled with access to devices and poor internet connectivity, and difficulty in studying the modules by themselves.
The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition questioned the DepEd’s readiness to open the school year, fearing that “the upcoming school year might be just a repeat of the previous one.”
“According to the reports we receive, many teachers are still waiting for the provided modules while others are doing their last-ditch effort of printing and reproduction using their own resources,” TDC Vice Chairperson Olivia de Guzman said.
Maricel Herrera, a teacher from Bacoor in Cavite, attested to the TDC’s statement, saying she did not receive modules from the DepEd and instead used the same learning materials that she developed last year.
For Herrera, who teaches technology and livelihood education, internet connection remains a huge obstacle in distance learning this year.
While the DepEd distributed sim cards with internet data to teachers, not all educators find the aid useful, said Herrera, who suggested that the agency give internet and communication allowances instead.
“Sana binigay na lang ‘yong P1,500 internet allowance ng mga teacher kasi ‘yon, magagamit talaga ng teachers. Maraming nagpakabit ng internet, maraming nagpa-upgrade,” said Herrera, who has taught for over two decades.
(I wish they would’ve given the P1,500 internet allowance for teachers because that’s something that teachers can actually use. Many teachers had the internet installed and upgraded.)
Some teachers rarely use the internet because they communicate with students and parents more through text messaging and phone calls, she added.
Calls for in-person classes
Along with the opening of the new school year, calls for the conduct of limited in-person classes, especially in areas with zero to few COVID-19 cases, continue to grow.
The Philippines and Venezuela are the only two countries in the world that have not conducted either partial or full school reopening since the start of the pandemic, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
For the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), the persisting school closure in the country is “the most obvious indicator of the government’s failure to support and improve education delivery amid the pandemic.”
“Every other country has successfully re-opened their schools despite the pandemic, but the Duterte [administration] stubbornly insists on its thoughtless ‘one-size fits all’ policy,” ACT said in a statement.
In the past months, UNICEF and other groups have been calling for the safe reopening of schools, warning that prolonged closures would lead to learning losses and negatively impact students’ physical and mental health, and earning prospects.
Other countries have started to reopen schools, implementing social distancing and other measures to keep COVID-19 infection rates down.
The DepEd continues to prepare for a dry run of limited in-person classes in low-risk areas, a proposal which President Rodrigo Duterte has twice rejected over fears of more infectious variants of COVID-19.
Last week, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the chief executive “may” allow the DepEd to hold the dry run in 120 schools to “see if it works, if it can be implemented in other areas.”
The Philippines has recorded more than 2.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Sunday, of which, 181,951 are active. It logged its first infection on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged.