MANILA (UPDATE) — Education Secretary Leonor Briones said Monday opening another school year during the COVID-19 pandemic was a "success", even as teachers say they continue to deal with the same challenges under distance learning.
"[The Department of Education] celebrates with great joy its success in opening classes for the second year in the time of COVID," Briones said at a live-streamed school opening program.
"We opened classes last year. We successfully ended them. Now we are opening another school year. Isn't that success worthy of celebration?" she said.
Briones' similar statement from the previous school year — that the school opening was a "victory" against COVID-19 — drew some flak from the public as many teachers and students struggled with access to technology for distance or remote learning.
Despite the challenges, School Year 2020-2021 ended last July, with several groups doubting whether students substantially learned under the alternative setup.
"Still and all, there is much success to celebrate and build on. We did what was considered impossible in 5 months. We translated printed [learning] material[s] into TV, radio, cell phone, tablet, and yes, utilized walkie-talkies for remote schools," Briones said of the shift to distance learning.
"Today, we are opening the School Year 2021 to 2022 as we celebrate last year’s victory. The challenges we are facing now are even tougher than those we battled last year," she said.
As of early Monday, 24.6 million students registered in basic education, equivalent to 93.8 percent of last year's total enrollment figure.
The DepEd has moved the last day of enrollment in public schools from Sept. 13 to Sept. 30.
But as the DepEd celebrated the start of a new school year, several teachers' group expressed their dismay with the school opening, saying "not much has changed" from the previous academic year.
Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC) Chairperson Benjo Basas said lack of modules from the DepEd and internet allowance remain a problem for some teachers.
"Parang halos walang pinagbago kasi noong October 2020. Nakita naman natin ang problema sa modules na up to now, problema pa rin," Basas told TeleRadyo.
(It seems like not much has changed from October 2020. We saw that the problem with modules is still a problem up to now.)
Briones, however, said the new school year would "not be a repeat of last year because events do not necessarily repeat themselves."
"There will be no repetition of the experiences that we had, challenges that we had during the past academic year," she said at the school opening event.
Education Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio said schools are still allowed to use locally-developed learning materials in the absence of modules from the DepEd Central Office.
The DepEd also wants schools to be less dependent on printed materials and to maximize the gadgets that local governments and partner organizations have donated, he said.
In a separate statement, the TDC lamented about how teachers have been working nonstop since June 2020, when they resumed work to prepare for the first school year of distance learning.
"Our poor teachers have been working for numerous official tasks which lasted until the end of the school year in July 2021. These tasks have stolen from them their very much needed rest time," the group said.
"They were not even given adequate rest to recharge physically, emotionally and mentally," it added.
Teachers, parents and students in Metro Manila welcomed the new academic year through protests.
In Mendiola, Manila, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) condemned what it said was the government's neglect of the education sector and called for the safe reopening of schools.
"‘Yong quality ng education sa ganitong porma ng pagtuturo ay na-compromise kaya nanawagan kami sa pamahalaang ito na magkaroon ng kongkretong plano sa pagbabalik-paaralan nang ligtas," said Ruby Bernardo, secretary of ACT-National Capital Region.
(The quality of education with this way of teaching is compromised. That's why we're calling on the government to have a concrete plan on the safe return to schools.)
In Quezon City, a number of parents and students gathered at an elementary school to urge the government to come up with plan for the gradual return to in-person learning.
The Philippines and Venezuela are the only 2 countries in the world that have not resumed in-person classes since the start of the pandemic.
The DepEd continues to push 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.
— With reports from Gillan Ropero, Anjo Bagaoisan and Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News