MANILA (UPDATED) — A party-list lawmaker on Tuesday hit the Department of Education (DepEd) over the country's slow return to in-person classes as problems continue to plague distance learning.
During a House hearing, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro questioned why the agency did not seem to allocate funds under its proposed 2022 budget for the safe reopening of schools.
"Ngayong pandemya, mas matindi 'yong pangangailangan sa construction, handwashing [facilities]... There should be a mapping sa ating pagbabalik [sa mga paaralan]," Castro said.
(Now that there's a pandemic, there's a need for more construction, handwashing facilities... There should be a mapping of our return to schools.)
Castro pointed out that the Philippines is lagging behind other countries in efforts to conduct in-person classes.
The Philippines and Venezuela are the only two countries in the world that have yet to hold either partial or full in-person classes since the pandemic began.
In response, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the government has a plan on the resumption of in-person classes.
The DepEd continues to push for a dry run of limited in-person classes in areas with zero to little COVID-19 cases. The agency is eyeing to implement the pilot test in 120 schools.
President Rodrigo Duterte has twice rejected the DepEd's proposal over concerns of more infectious COVID-19 variants.
In the same hearing, Castro grilled DepEd officials over supposed inadequacies under the agency's distance learning program, which was implemented as an alternative to in-person classes.
Castro said teachers still lack internet allowance.
Alain Pascua, DepEd's undersecretary for administration, said the agency would provide laptops and other devices to teachers but funding remains insufficient.
The DepEd earlier distributed 40,000 laptops to teachers and sim cards with internet data to its personnel.
Pascua added it was up to the Department of Information and Communications Technology to provide equipment for reliable internet connectivity.
"We cannot impose on that agency to immediately roll out their broadband or their connectivity programs," she said.
The DepEd also allotted P700 million to procure data or satellite connectivity for "last-mile schools" in far-flung areas, Pascua said.
The education department is asking for a P630.8 billion-budget in 2022.
School Year 2021-2022 opened on Monday, with teachers saying they continue to deal with the same problems that they faced in the previous school year such as lack of modules, and access to gadgets and adequate internet connection.