MANILA (UPDATE) — Several private schools on Monday brought some of their students back to classrooms for face-to-face classes, joining the government’s pilot implementation of limited in-person instruction.
Eighteen private schools from areas deemed “low risk” for COVID-19 reopened to students from kindergarten to Grade 3 and senior high school (SHS) who secured their parents’ consent to attend physical classes despite the persisting health crisis.
Twenty private schools were allowed to join the pilot study but Jocelyn Andaya, a director at the Department of Education (DepEd), said two schools deferred from holding in-person classes due to their academic calendars.
Similar to the 100 public schools that resumed in-person learning last week, the private schools retrofitted their facilities for students and personnel to observe health protocols against the spread of COVID-19.
“May designated places kung saan lang puwedeng manatili ‘yong mga estudyante. Gumamit tayo ng open spaces or doon sa mga lugar na maayos ang ventilation. And, of course, dapat may access to cleaning materials and also for hygiene,” said Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (Cocopea) Managing Director Joseph Noel Estrada at the Laging Handa public briefing.
(There are designated places where the students can stay. We also made use of open spaces or areas with proper ventilation. And, of course, the schools should have access to cleaning materials and also for proper hygiene.)
Estrada said the DepEd allowed Cocopea to monitor the situation in the “pilot” schools so the group could make recommendations for the “expansion phase,” the second stage in the government’s three-part plan to reopen basic education schools.
In the City of San Fernando in Pampanga, 20 of the total 28 SHS students of the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary attended in-person classes and answered a diagnostics test that assessed how much they learned after almost two years of distance learning.
Inside the classrooms, the students sat apart from one another. The school did not put plastic barriers around the students' chairs, in contrast to what some of the other pilot schools are doing, but they were required to wear face masks.
The participating students will reside in dormitories inside the seminary until Dec. 10, the last day of classes before the holiday break.
Fr. Conrad Flores, one of the school’s directors, said all participating students underwent COVID-19 antigen tests before returning to the school.
Also on Monday, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Private Schools said it relaunched an online help desk catering to the concerns of private school personnel on the resumption of in-person classes.
More schools to join pilot run
Education Assistant Secretary Malcolm Garma, meanwhile, said more schools would be joining the pilot run in the coming weeks.
“We do hope that probably by the coming weeks, we’ll be having more public schools and private schools that will be joining our pilot study,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
One of the goals of the pilot implementation, Garma said, is to assess the readiness of public and private schools to hold face-to-face classes.
“We need to determine the readiness of not only our public schools but also private schools. Definitely, there will be a lot of adjustments that have to be done,” he said, responding to statements of the Federation of Associations of Private School Administrators that some private schools are financially unprepared to return to face-to-face classes.
The Senate finance committee has said it was pushing to increase the funding of the DepEd, and state universities and colleges under the 2022 national budget in anticipation of more schools returning to in-person classes next year.
In-person classes, however, will only complement distance learning modalities as students will continue to study from their homes, through modules and online classes, officials have said.
In higher education, the inter-agency body leading the country’s COVID-19 response has allowed a “phased implementation” of limited face-to-face classes for colleges and universities in areas under Alert Level 1 to 3.
— With a report from Arra Perez, ABS-CBN News