MANILA - The Department of Education (DepEd) has recorded zero COVID-19 infections in almost 300 of the schools participating in the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes during the past 3 weeks, an official said on Friday.
In a press conference, DepEd Dir. Roger Masapol said the attendance rate for weeks 1, 2, and 3 of face to face classes was at 82 percent, 83 percent, and 82 percent, respectively, as some students were absent due to coughs, colds, and fever.
To date, only one school has implemented a lockdown - a school in Zambales which had some of its teachers test positive for COVID-19 during an antigen test before the beginning of face-to-face classes on Nov. 15.
Meanwhile, Education Assistant Secretary Malcolm Garma said some schools had to postpone their participation in pilot face-to-face classes, including schools in Calabarzon, Western Visayas, Zamboanga, and Davao Region.
The development was due to the COVID-19 cases in the locations of schools and the change in their area's alert level status.
Equally as important as the health aspect is the teaching and learning of students in the gradual reopening of physical classes, and Masapol assured the public that the agency is looking into each challenge encountered every week.
During the first week of in-person classes, Masapol said some "learners tend to take off their (face) masks", especially kinder students.
He added that "learners forget physical distancing" and pupils "tend to not stay in their seats".
During the second week of classes, reports from schools said "some (students) are still adjusting from modular to limited face-to-face classes".
In the third week of physical classes, it was observed that some students had a "hard time viewing board because of barrier" and "students cannot express themselves well because of their face masks".
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said she met with agency officials and school heads to ask them to "exercise their initiative" in resolving these challenges.
"Kung may problema, hindi na kailangang hintayin kung anong sasabihin at memorandum at pagmee-meetingan ng central office. At their level, they have a much better appreciation of what the problem is," Briones said.
(If there is a problem, we don't need to wait for instructions on the memorandum and the meeting at the central office.)
"Kilala naman nila iyong mga personalities, iyong situation kaysa kami pa ang magbigay ng general guidelines," she added.
(They all know the personalities [they should approach and] the situation and they no longer wait for us to give the general guidelines needed.)
Garma, meanwhile, said the improvements that would be implemented in the pilot run of face-to-face classes are geared towards the upcoming expansion phase.
"Part of the pilot study is our openness to consider na i-lengthen natin iyong oras ng kanilang (lengthen the time of their) contact time sa school. Another is that we need to connect now iyong 2 learning environment - the home learning environment and the school learning environment," he said.
"However, based on the initial report, nakikita natin (we saw) na there is really a need for adjustment kasi transition talaga," he added.
For Masapol, amid challenges, the pilot implementation of face to face classes during the past three weeks has been "so far, so good".
Under memorandum DepEd Memorandum No. 85, s. 2021 or the Preparations for the Implementation of the Expanded Phase of Face-to-Face Classes, the agency highlights guidelines for public and private schools so that they may be able to prepare for the expansion of face to face classes, targeted to begin in early 2022.
"The expanded phase shall cover all grade levels from K to 12," the memorandum read.
Amid the threat of the Omicron variant, Briones said the agency will "proceed as planned" - ending pilot face to face classes in December, submitting their report and recommendations to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, and starting the expansion in the early part of next year.
Briones assured they are constantly coordinating with health experts and are taking all necessary precautions for the safety of children and school personnel.
"As far as we at the policy level are concerned, there is no pushing back for as long as it is not here, for as long as the danger is perceived to be milder maybe even there is no danger at all, in the meantime, we proceed. We cannot stop," she said.
"One, we follow the Department of Health protocols. And, second, we use the same standards that we have implemented and we have used for the pilot. This is the consent of the local government, written consent of the parents, risk assessment, and go signal from the Department of Health, and cooperation of all who are involved in the process of teaching and learning for the students."