Philippines starts pilot run of face-to-face classes amid COVID pandemic

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 15 2021 11:29 AM | Updated as of Nov 15 2021 02:03 PM

Pupils observe minimum health protocols as they attend the first day of limited face to face classes at the Longos Elementary School in Barangay Pangapisan in Alaminos City, Pangasinan on November 15, 2021.  Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Pupils observe minimum health protocols as they attend the first day of limited face to face classes at the Longos Elementary School in Barangay Pangapisan in Alaminos City, Pangasinan on November 15, 2021.  Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
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MANILA - The Philippines began Monday limited face-to-face classes in select areas with low COVID-19 infection rates after almost two years of school closures.

Speaking to ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, Director Roger Masapol of the Department of Education (DepEd) Planning Service said the first day of face-to-face classes was like "waiting for someone to give birth."

“Mixed emotion Jeff, actually, para tayong nag-aabang sa manganganak,” he said. 

“Excited ang DepEd para sa mga bata sa pagbabalik nila sa school, meron ding kaunting anxiety kasi we don’t know yung mga contingencies, pero excited kami para sa mga kabataan talaga ngayon, and optimistic na magiging matagumpay ang ating pilot para ma-open na natin ang buong, ang lahat ng school natin sa buong Pilipinas,” he added.

Masapol said they reduced class sizes in order to help curb the possible spread of the novel coronavirus disease among students.

“Pinaliit natin yung class size. Yung kinder ginawa na lang natin 12 na dating 25, yung Grades 1-3 ginawa nating 16 na dating 30,” he said.

“And then meron pong 1-2 meters physical distancing yung mga upuan sa loob ng classroom at meron pong mga directional signages na kailangan sundin ng mga kabataan.”

Handwashing stations are also set up in schools so students can disinfect as soon as they enter their campuses.

“Pagpasok pa lang sa gate meron na pong nakaabang na handwashing facility at mga disinfection chemicals…para masiguro natin ligtas ang pagbabalik ng mga kabataan natin sa mga silid-aralan.”

Masapol said they expect around 8,000 from Kinder to Grade 3 to return to schools today.

“So assuming na pumayag yung lahat ng magulang ng mga kabataang ‘to na nasa Kinder to (Grade) 3, we expect more than 8,000 sa 100 school dito sa K to 3,” he said. 

Masapol said, meanwhile, that 19 private schools may start limited face-to-face on November 22.

“Yung private school Jeff, meron na kaming na-identify na 19. Out of 20 na pinayagan ni Presidente, doon sa mga nagsubmit ng application 19 po yung pumasa,” he said.

Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA) president Eleazardo Kasilag, however, said they have apprehensions about resuming face-to-face classes.

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“We have to admit we are very tight on funds right now. This is due to the migration of students from private schools to public schools. And also for the pandemic. Our teachers are operating on slashed budget as far as the pay is concerned,” he said.

“But if we would begin to ask them to report regularly on (face-to-face), in person, then that would require them transportation cost, and the snacks. And we wouldn’t, if they will ask for regular pay, that we cannot give.”

Kasilag also said they are iffy about resuming face-to-face classes because stricter lockdowns may have to be implemented again if and when COVID-19 cases spike anew.

“The lockdown is, you know, sometimes it’s there, we do not know if that would come again and then suddenly, a pronouncement would be made, we’re back to where we were before. It has to be flexible.”

He also noted that some private schools accepted students from outside their localities amid the distance learning setup during the pandemic, which means these will now be affected once in-person classes resume.

“Some of the private schools actually accepted students outside of our locality. Say I’m from Marikina, my school is from Marikina, we have some students from Quezon City, even from the provinces because it was online,” he said.

“If we would go immediately to in person, then there would be problem also with transportation. That may, that definitely would affect their studies,” he stressed.

He also said that they were caught “flat-footed” with the announcement that limited face-to-face classes are now allowed to resume.

“FAPSA was caught flat-footed. We always get to hear over the news for the authorities that this would go on for the entire year, probably we would have to expect up to school year 2022, say, that we would have still the same situation. So we didn’t expect this one.”

“We have to make adjustment in our schools. Social distancing, we have to open the windows, we cannot use the aircon, and shifting, the meals, staggered classes, schedule,” he said.

Finally, Kasilag noted that pupils in elementary school remain unvaccinated.

“They have not received the jabs because right now, the vaccination is only for 12-17. Kinder, that’s preschool up to Grade 6, would only be six years old to 11. So most of the students or pupils in basic education are from this sector,” he said.

“Okay, we heard from the (Department of Health) that the children are less vulnerable, they’re less susceptible to virus. That’s alright. Pero what happens, who would take the blame, I mean who would be responsible in case they get infected?”

“Can they run to DOH? Would DOH really attend to them? Baka kami, they may come to us and then we would be sued,” he said.

Masapol noted, however, that he is glad that the DOH is listening to their concerns.

“There [were] even several talks about this one, with DepEd. Right now, it created the PEO, that’s Private Education Office, which automatically or would say exclusively would attend to the needs of the private school although it has not been completely conceptualized as to the thing, its character and its manual.”

“But the point is we were happy that DepEd really is looking into our concerns and issues,” he said.